The original California Food Handler Card Law (“Food Handler Law”) was enacted by the passage of SB 602 in 2010 and codified in California’s Health and Safety Code 113790 et seq.  The law as passed raised a number of concerns by those in the food industry, as well as those who provide food safety training. One main concern was the July 1, 2011 deadline for compliance. As a result, a number of industry associations and organizations have been active in advocating for new legislation to amend the Food Handler Law to provide both clarification and hopefully more guidance on how to comply. 

SB 303 was introduced by Senator Padilla on February 14, 2011. It has moved its way through committee analysis and is currently with the Committee on Health. An urgency clause to the legislation was adopted so that if it passes and is signed by the Governor, the legislation will go into effect immediately.

Current Law:

The California Retail Food Code provides for the regulation of health and sanitation standards for retail food facilities by the State Department of Public Health. Local health agencies are primarily responsible for enforcing this law. Violation of these provisions is a misdemeanor. The law generally requires food facilities, except temporary food facilities, to have an owner or employee who has successfully passed an approved and accredited food safety certification examination from an accredited food protection manager certification organization, except as specified.  Existing law generally defines a food facility to mean an operation that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption at the retail level.

The Food Handler Law that was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger before leaving office, also requires, with specified exceptions, that food handlers (as defined by the statute) that are hired prior to June 1, 2011, obtain a food handler card from a food protection manager certification organization.  A food handler hired after June 1, 2011, is required to obtain a food handler card within 30 days of his or her date of hire.  A food handler must maintain a valid food handler card for the duration of his or her employment as a food handler.   

SB 303:

SB 303 proposes the following changes to the Food Handler Law:

1.             Amend the definition of a “food facility” to mean a food facility that sells food for human consumption.

2.             Provide that prior to January 1, 2012, a food handler may obtain a food handler card from either one of the following:

a.An American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited training provider that meets ASTM International E2659-09 Standard Practice for Certification Programs; or

b.A food protection manager certification organization as described in Section 113947.3 of California’s Health & Safety Code.

However, commencing January 1, 2012, a food handler must obtain a food handler card from an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited training provider that meets ASTM International E2659-09 Standard Practice for Certification Programs.

Important: Industry advocates who are pushing for legislative reform requested that from July 1, 2011 until January 1, 2012 enforcement of the law be limited to education and notification of the requirements for compliance rather than any penalties for non-compliance. However, as currently drafted SB 303 does not address this issue directly.   Therefore, all employers in the food industry should ensure that their food handler employees timely obtain their food handler card.