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    Understanding the Importance of the Food Handling Certification

    The North America economy as a whole is still very good. In both the US and Canada, people are enjoying the fruits of their labor and exploring new food products in the form of experimentations with various restaurants, new food delivery services, recipes found on home cooking programs, and more. To provide for this increased demand, there are currently approximately over 18 million people employed preparing, cooking, and serving food and beverages to customers, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Statistics Canada. While many of the frequented establishments take pride in their safety measures, to ensure protection of the consumer, a food handling certification is required in many states in the US and Canada. This certification is recognition that food service professionals have been trained in the best practices of food handling and serves to help prevent food-related health hazards. 

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    Purpose of the Food Handling Certification 

    Food borne illnesses can be quite serious, resulting in hospitalization and even death. Unfortunately, food borne illnesses still occur today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from food borne diseases each year in the United States. In Canada it is estimated that every year there are four million cases of food-borne illness, 11,600 hospitalizations, and 238 deaths, according to Health Canada

    Having a standard in place, like the Food Handling Certification helps to reduce the number of food borne illnesses. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), "The Food Handling Certification targets professionals who are required to obtain a food handler card in their state to serve, store or prepare food. The course covers five primary areas affecting food handlers: food safety, personal hygiene, time and temperature, cleaning and sanitation, and cross-contamination and allergens. Additionally, food service professionals learn about risk management (food service industry and sanitation) issues, best practices for food safety, and the FDA Food Code." 

    Who Requires the Certification? 

    Not all areas in the US and Canada require certifications. To find out if your business does, in Canada, visit the Canadian Institute and search by location. In the US, go to ServSafe and look under Locations. By putting in your state, you can determine if it is a state requirement to obtain a certification or simply a Demonstration of Knowledge, or if there are county requirements for your business location. Although requirements vary by state and location, there are multiple benefits for having Food Handling certifications as well as many other certifications offered for the food industry. 

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    How Do I Get Certified? 

    In the US, it is the NRA's ServSafe that provides the training resources and certifications for food handlers. In Canada, it is the Canadian Institute for Food Safety. Both offer educational resources, materials and programs to help attract and develop a strong industry workforce. ServSafe has been the restaurant industry's leading association since 1919, and takes the education programs for certification very seriously with over 960,000 training locations. The Canadian Institute provides educational products and is a strong advocate for better food safety programs in Canada. 

    In addition, the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals (NRFSP), is a globally recognized organization that also provides food service industry examinations, standards and best practices such as the Food Safety First Principles for Food Handlers certification. This is a certification program accredited by ANSI against the ASTM standards for California, Arizona, Texas and Illinois, designed to ensure food handlers have the skills to handle, serve, prepare and display food. This program covers food safety, knowledge about contamination and cross-contamination, time and temperature controls, cleaning and sanitizing, and personal hygiene. In order to earn the certificate, candidates must not only complete the training course, but pass a all-encompassing exam. Finally, Learn2Serve offers a Food Handling Certification for anyone who handles unpackaged food or equipment, and surfaces or utensils that are exposed to unpackaged foods. 

    Some of these courses are available online and only take a few hours to complete. For many of them, like ServSafe, you simply select the state where you would like to purchase and choose the Online Course. You will then need to create a User ID and Password, then enter it to access the course. All of the resources listed above offer a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section as well as a step-by-step guide to help the user through the process. Obviously, the goal is to learn proper food handling techniques and procedures, but the side benefit is earning a certification that is respected in the industry and extremely valuable for employment purposes. 

    Certification Helps Business and the Industry 

    The benefits of hiring food handling certified employees for your business should be obvious. Of course, the concern for the well-being of customers would top that list. And then there is the establishment of a business with a reputation of providing clean, safe food products. To protect a business' reputation of providing safe food handling is so great that most food service managers would pay more for employees who already have the certification. According to a Journal of Extension food service managers survey, approximately 72 percent indicated they would be more likely to hire food safety trained workers, and 50 percent would be willing to pay higher wages to those trained. Certification goes deeper than protecting public image though, it helps boost the credibility of the industry as a whole. 

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