WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE 2011 CALIFORNIA FOOD HANDLER CARD LAW: NEW FOOD SAFETY TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION LEGISLATION (SENATE BILL 602)
By GEORGE NAKAMURA,REHS,DAAS DeltaTRAK Food Safety Consultant
Effective July 1, 2011 the state of California will require all employees that handle food in restaurants earn a California Food Handler Card. This legislation will affect more than 1.4 million food industry jobs. Senate Bill 602 is intended to benefit food facilities and their employees, boost consumer confidence and significantly improve food safety in the state. Similar programs have been successfully implemented in Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas and Florida. A recent Florida study found that their program lowered cases of foodborne illnesses by an average of 7% per year or a total of 79% since the program's inception ten years ago. Local food safety regulatory authorities will be responsible for ensuring that food facilities meet their obligations under the law. This will include ensuring employees possess a valid food handler card and records are being maintained and available to regulatory authorities upon request. Food safety certification of managers is currently the most common food safety certification program available. The expansion of certification to all food handlers will have national implications as other states may enact similar legislation. This paper will examine the pros and cons of the new law, review the specific provisions of the California Food Handler Card Law and detail 2011 updates to the new law.
FOOD SAFETY CERTIFICATION AND TRAINING. IS IT WORKING FOR YOUR AGENCY AND COMMUNITY? FIND OUT IF THE NEW CALIFORNIA LEGISLATION CAN IMPROVE FOOD SAFETY IN YOUR COMMUNITY. INTRODUCTION
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in December 2010 that approximately 70% of all foodborne disease is spread by direct or indirect contact with infected individuals. The report further states that 3,037 people die each year from tainted food served from food facilities nationwide, Over 128,000 are hospitalized and 47.8 million people become ill annually from food facility contamination. The CDC reports that one in six Americans gets sick from food every year. Salmonella was found to be the leading cause of foodborne illness causing 28 per cent of the deaths and 35 per cent of the hospitalizations according to the new data. From a fiscal loss standpoint that translates to U.S. $152 billion per year according to a report from the National Restaurant Association (NRA). It is vital therefore that all food handlers at the food facility level be aware of the serious consequences of poor and non compliant food safety practices.
Food safety is an issue that should be constantly on the minds of every food facility customer and regulator. Customers expect to be served safe and wholesome food at all times. A foodborne illness outbreak can ruin a food facility's business. Regulatory compliance and effective food safety practices and their execution, particularly in our current economy, are vital to the success and future survival of the food service industry. Food facilities often provide the first and best line of defense in controlling and eliminating foodborne illness hazards.
According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA) the retail food service industry in the United States, as of 2009, is composed of nearly one million food facilities that provide an estimated 70 billion meals and employs an estimated 13 million employees. Regardless of the size or complexity of a food facility's operation, the on-site management and their employees share a common responsibility for the prevention of foodborne illness. There are unprecedented demands during our current depressed economy as the industry is faced with the realities of shrinking budgets, international trade competition, rapid changing new technologies, an onslaught of emerging pathogens, and changing consumer demographics. Food safety at the retail and food service level has tremendous room for improvement.
Today's effective food safety programs require that all food facilities personnel especially managers be knowledgeable about food safety principles and practices. A key food safety player according to the requirements in the 2009 Federal Food Code is "the person in charge". The person in charge must be committed to implementing sound food safety principles and practices. A comprehensive food safety program also requires that all food handlers understand and practice proper hygiene and food handling practices at all times in serving the public.
The national trend among regulatory agencies is to require that each retail food facility have at least one certified food safety manager. Currently most states and local jurisdictions require some type of mandatory food safety certification requirement. Jurisdictions in Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas and Florida have expanded their food safety certification programs to include all food handlers. A state of Florida study found that their program lowered cases of foodborne illnesses by an average of 7% per year or a total of 79% since the program's inception ten years ago. Food safety training for managers has been shown to have a positive effect on food safety practices and resulted in fewer critical violations. Food safety certification of managers is currently the most utilized certification program. The extension of certification to all food handlers will have significant national implications.
The California food handler card Senate Bill 602 or SB 602 was introduced by state Senator Alex Padilla on February 27. 2009 at the request of the California Retail Food Safety Coalition, which is comprised of regulatory, and food service industry members. The bill was amended ten times and sent to the state senate and assembly in August 2010. The California Restaurant Association hailed the bill, as "lawmaking at its best as all stakeholders were at the table working toward a shared goal of ensuring food safety". The goal was to provide a common-sense approach to training food facility food handlers to safely handle food and to avoid a patchwork of local regulations.
The state of California will require effective July 1, 2011, that all food facility employees handling food must obtain a California Food Handler Card after training for and passing a test within 30 days of hire or no later than July 1, 2011 for current employees. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed this urgent legislation on September 27, 2010 in order to ensure a safer food supply at the earliest possible time. The legislation will affect more than 1.4 million food industry jobs. With more than 90,000 food and beverage facilities operating in California, the California Restaurant Association estimates that food and drink sales reached an estimated 58 billion dollars in 2010. SB 602 is intended to benefit food facilities and their employees, boost consumer confidence and significantly improve food safety in the state. Local food safety regulatory authorities are responsible for ensuring that food facilities meet their obligations under the law. This includes ensuring that all employees possess a valid food handler card and that employees are properly maintaining records that can be provided to regulatory authorities upon request. SB 602 requires that all food facility employees be trained and certified in proper food handling practices. The main purpose of the bill was to reduce the incidence of foodborne illnesses and hospitalizations in the state by training and certifying all food facility employees in safe food handling practices. This legislation is expected to have a dramatic and positive effect on the safety of California's food supply.
SB 602 EXEMPTIONS
The California Food Handler Card law exempts some food handlers. In general the law applies to all food facilities with the exception of temporary food facilities and it exempts individuals already holding a valid manager’s food safety certification.
Current facilities and handlers exempt from the new law include:
- Food handlers with current cards from Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.
- Food facilities with collective bargaining agreements with their food handlers.
- Food Handlers employed by: o Certified farmers markets o Commissaries o Grocery stores, except for separately owned food facilities o Licensed health care facilities o Mobile support units o Public and private school cafeterias o Restricted food service facilities o Retail stores where a majority of sales are from a pharmacy.
The entire issue of exemptions is often part of the political legislative process. Special interest groups often insert exemptions to satisfy special interests rather than to improve food safety. Currently, an issue regarding inmates and volunteers such as at senior centers is being proposed for inclusion.
KNOWLEDGE OF CDC RISK FACTORS PERTAINING TO FOOD SAFETY
The goal of the food handler law is to ensure and verify the food handler’s knowledge of the many CDC risk factors pertaining to food safety such as foodborne illness principles, time and temperature relationships and proper personal hygiene. Additionally, the law aspires to instill in the food handler the importance of consistently engaging in food safety practices. The food handler certification and the food manager certification both work to accomplish these goals with a basic difference that the manager’s training currently includes training and testing on food facility layout and construction.
The food handler certification examination will test the handler’s knowledge of CDC food safety risk factors such as:
- Foodborne illness principles including definitions.
- The relationship between time and temperature in foodborne illnesses.
- The relationship between personal hygiene and food safety.
- Methods of preventing food contamination in all stages of food handling.
- Procedures for cleaning and sanitizing equipment and utensils.
- Problems and solutions for facility and equipment design, layout and construction.
- Problems and solutions associated with temperature control, cross-contamination, housekeeping and maintenance.
TRAINING AND EXAMINATION COSTS AND ISSUES
The food handler law requires participation in a training course and passing an examination to be certified. The law allows companies to build and run their own in-house training programs or employees may take the training through an approved association or third party program. The law stipulates that companies who have in house training programs that are certified in other states and adhere to the 2001 food code will be allowed to run their owe in house training programs. Yum Brands and Disney are examples of food facilities that may qualify for in-house training by virtue of their adherence to these provisions. The new law stipulates that the training course and examination must be designed to be completed in approximately two and one-half hours.
The law stipulates that one training course must be available to all employees at a cost of no more than $15 to ensure affordability and prevent hardship on employees. Employees may opt for subsequent training courses developed by companies that may cost more once the $15 option is established. Employers are not responsible by this law to pay for an employee's time and expense to participate training and testing unless a food facility provides in-house training and testing during normal working hours.
The law requires that all employees have access to an examination costing no more than $60 including the certificate. Again, subsequent examinations may be offered by companies at higher cost if the employee so chooses. The assessment exam must consist of at least 40 questions with a minimum score of 70 percent to receive the certificate/food handler card. The exam may be taken on-line or at an approved facility. Unlike the current ANSI/CFP certified food manager on-line or manual examinations that require that the applicant be proctored at an approved an approved testing center the new law for handlers does not require proctoring. This is a concern as it makes it difficult to verify who is taking the exam.
Other concerns are the issues of job loss, language barriers and the availability of an official approved exam. Food handlers are concerned that they will lose their jobs if they cannot pass the examination. Also details need to be addressed on how to handle groups that will need translation, are illiterate, and/or developmentally disabled. Finally the availability of an official approved exam needs to be finalized prior to implementing the new law.
SB 602 was written as an urgent legislated bill and therefore within the bill there is a requirement that a work group be convened to recommend modifications or changes to the law. This group included approximately 40 members comprised of local health department, restaurant association and food industry experts. Many issues were identified and a SB 602 sub work group was formed to suggested modifications and changes to the law’s wording. References to the SB 602 work group and sub work group cited below refer to these groups.
TRAINING PROVISION ISSUES
Certified food safety manager programs have demonstrated that often a nationally recognized certification program is a key factor to help reduce the occurrence of foodborne illnesses. Each food facility must have an owner or employee who has successfully passed an approved and accredited food safety certification exam from an accredited food safety manager certification organization. The only food safety manager certification testing organizations currently accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/ Conference for Food Protection (CFP) are the National Restaurant Association, National Registry of Food Safety Professionals, and Prometrics. The SB 602 law fails to address whether these three testing organizations would be accredited for the food handling card testing. Currently these testing organizations are not allowed to provide training for the food manager certification and it is unclear if the same will apply for the food handler card training. This matter will be addressed in my SB 602 work group findings to be found later in this paper.
IN HOUSE TRAINING ACCREDITATION ISSUES
The CALIFORNIA food handler card training course and assessment may be offered through a trainer led class or self-training. A food facility that provides in-house food safety training must meet the following conditions:
- Use a training course that has been approved for use in another state and meets the requirements of the 2001 Food Code.
- Provides satisfactory evidence to the local enforcement officer of an approved out of state training program.
- Training provided during normal working hours and no cost to employee.
TRAINING IMPORTANCE, CONCEPTS AND LANGUAGE ISSUES
Proactive prevention training is the key to reducing foodborne illnesses. It can be accomplished by minimizing the food borne illness risk factors in a food facility. The ultimate responsibility to produce and process safe foods lies with the management and employees. Regulatory authorities generally inspect a food facility only several times a year. Their inspection provides only a snapshot in time of the facility at the time period of inspection. Without proper and timely training, food facility operators may commit food safety errors that could lead to foodborne illness.
Four key concepts in food safety training include: Hands as a critical transmitter of disease.
- High Temperature Kills. Therefore, the final cook temperature is your critical control point.
- Eliminate Cross Contamination-especially hands, equipment, dripping foods, work surfaces, etc.
- Minimize Exposure to the Temperature Danger Zone (41 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit) - relates to short preparation times, monitored cooling, thawing foods, etc.
Improved training and education is critical as history has proven that many food facilities having received approved food safety training still failed to pass inspection and have been forced to close. Training and education must be adapted to the food handler's language and culture. The current training proposals only address English and Spanish speaking food handlers. The availability of additional multiple languages for this exam must be addressed.
Major barriers to learning and practicing food safety are literacy, cultural differences, socioeconomic standards, diverse skill levels, motivation of employees, lack of interest, and operator's lack of time and feedback. Despite knowledge of food safety practices many food handlers do not practice food safety behaviors regularly. Management must emphasize food safety as a priority even when burdened with more pressing tasks. Effective food safety instructors will be important to the food handling card training program’s success. The issue of who is an approved trainer is currently a major unresolved issue for the newly formed SB 602 workgroup.
Local enforcement officials will be responsible for ensuring that food facilities meet their obligation under the law, including that employees possess a valid food handler card and that the food facility is maintaining records that can be provided to local enforcement officers upon request. Failure to comply may result in administrative action including but not limited to issuance of an infraction. There are many clarifications, especially enforcement related that are needed by local enforcement agencies before implementation of SB 602 is possible.
SB 602 WORK GROUP and FUTURE LEGISLATION MODIFICATIONS
The SB 602 work group was initially convened on January 20, 2011 in Sacramento, California to discuss the implementation and enforcement of SB 602. The group quickly revealed a number of unaddressed issues that were passed on to the sub work group for review. The issues to be discussed by a sub work group include the following topics organized into sections on accreditation, exemptions, implementation date and training and assessment:
- Certificate (using standard) vs. Certification. The law doesn’t call for either. ISO standards consider it certificate.
- Adding an alternative path to broaden those that can provide the training
- How will a local enforcement agency confirm training had occurred and that it occurred using an approved training program.
- The way the law is currently written it implies that the food manager’s certification can be taken online without a proctor. Need clarification that manager’s certification is to be taken in a secured location and proctored.
- Exemptions are needed for inmates, volunteers (senior centers) etc.
- Providing an extension-delay of 6-12months if deemed necessary.
- Clarify intent of legislation-whether providers of food manager’s certification can begin providing food handler training now.
- Change certification language so it fits a certificate-take an extra 6 months to do this right.
- Develop a start date for implementation to create a level playing field…currently no one is approved.
- There is no way to regulate training during a ‘soft roll out”
Training and Assessment
- Link/de-link between training and assessment. Currently cannot de-link.
- Clarify meaning of “Approved food handler training and assessment”
These urgent modifications will be discussed and consensus approved for submittal back to the larger work group. Approved modification items will be submitted in a "SPOT BILL" that will amend SB 602. The proctoring issue for on-line assessments and the ANSI/ASTM training accreditation are important issues that the work group must resolve. Since I have been appointed to the SB 602 workgroup and subgroup, DeltaTRAK will be actively monitoring and adding input to the legislative process.
SB 602 is a food safety legislation that will have national implications and implementation. The many controversial and unresolved issues discussed in this article will be addressed in the coming months by the SB 602 workgroup. The training and testing issues for the Food Handler Card should not be as complex as for the Food Manager Certification programs. Will the quandary that this is a revenue generation law or truly a legislative act to improve food safety in California ever be answered, stay tuned?