What is a Food Handler?
A food handler is a person who works in a facility where food is produced and packaged, and comes into contact with food while on the job. This can include everyone from prep cooks at restaurants to quality inspectors on a production line. Some regions require special certifications for food handlers to make sure they know how to handle food safely and appropriately, and people can receive training from community colleges and technical schools. Health departments may also put on safety classes.
Making sure a food handler has adequate training and tools for food safety is an important aspect of protecting public health. If someone who is sick comes into contact with food, she can spread the disease to other people. Likewise, if a food handler fails to manage foods like meat and dairy properly, people could get sick from bacterial or fungal contamination. Food handlers need to learn about topics like personal hygiene, safe cooking and handling temperatures, and how to lay out a food facility to avoid cross-contamination.
A person with food handler certification may be more employable in the food industry, even if certification is not specifically required. Usually, businesses require certification for supervisors even if the health department does not, and having training can make it possible to advance higher in a company, supervising and training other people who work with food. It may also be possible to negotiate better wages.
In regions where food handler certification is necessary to work with food, people need to be able to show proof of certification and usually must periodically renew. To get certified, people take a class and an examination to demonstrate knowledge of the topics covered. Renewals usually require retaking the exam. People may also have a continuing education requirement, such as attending a set number of hours of safety training a year, to confirm that they are keeping up with trends in the food industry and know about changes to health and safety recommendations and requirements.
Working as a food handler can require people to spend a lot of time on their feet in hot, crowded environments. The work usually requires good observational skills and attention to detail, as people expect quality and consistency from the food they buy. Food handlers with particular aesthetic skills or cooking abilities may work their way into senior positions designing and creating menu items or working directly under a head chef.
I got several certifications saying that I had been trained in sanitary practices and another that said I knew kitchen safety. There were easy to get through the community college where I was taking culinary classes.
When I went to get my first big job after school I think these certifications really helped. More people than you realize don't understand best practices inside of a kitchen. They can compromise health and safety. If you have a way of confirming that new employees know how to keep a kitchen clean and safe that provides a lot of confidence. People looking to find work in kitchens should really consider getting certified.
Being a food handler is not easy, not easy at all. I have worked as a line cook in lots of different restaurants, Mexican, Italian, Japanese. At some of these places I've worked harder, faster and longer than I thought I was physically capable of.
On a busy night in a big restaurant with a complicated menu the speed and precision that you have to work with is incredible. It seems like there were sometimes when my hands and arms were moving as fast as possible while I ran from one end of the kitchen to the other. And this went on for 4 hours. So don't let anyone tell you that cooks have it easy. Its hard work and it doesn't get a whole lot easier even when you get really good at it.
I live in St. Louis and have been working in kitchens on and off for about 11 years. When I first moved here and got my first job (as a pizza cook) I had to get vaccinated against hepatitis C. This included one shot up front and another one six months later.
The reason for this is that there was once an outbreak of Hep C in St. Louis and it was spread through restaurant food. Generally there is not much risk, but transmission is possible. After the incident the city made it a law that all food handlers had to be vaccinated. It was kind of annoying, and it cost me some money, but I can understand the benefits to public health. And I don't have to worry about Hep C any more which I guess is a monkey off my back.
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