Arizona Food Handler Card: The Course, Assessment, and Certification

arizona food handler card

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There are few things more important when working in a restaurant than food safety. From the cooks to the bussers, diners trust that everyone follows the necessary steps to ensure that their food is safe to eat. That’s why many states, in an effort to ensure public health standards, require anyone working in food service to undergo food safety training.In Arizona, things aren’t quite that straightforward.

There is no statewide food handler card law for certification in Arizona. Instead, each county has its own law requirements that govern whether employees need food handler training to work in restaurants. Despite this patchwork approach, you will be prepared to work in most restaurants across the state by following some basic guidelines.

County-by-county food handling laws

Arizona is made up of fifteen counties. Not all counties require the same food safety certification. In fact, five counties don’t require any training at all. They are:

  • Apache County
  • Cochise County
  • Graham County
  • Navajo County
  • Pima County

Of course, even though these counties don’t require any special training beyond federal minimums, it’s important for a restaurant’s staff to follow proper procedures to minimize the chances of any foodborne illness. The lack of official requirements means that restaurants in these counties administer their own training.

In the other ten counties of the state, restaurants need to ensure that their staff meets all official requirements to continue their employment.

Additional requirements

Most counties will require that staff acquire training from a program accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) within 30 days of starting work. While this is a basic guideline, it’s still worth checking your county’s specific requirements, as some counties require further training. Examples of additional requirements include: 

  • Coconino County: Coconino County, home to Flagstaff and the largest county in Arizona by landmass, has a backcountry food handler training program in addition to the ANSI training course. This training goes deeper into the topics of vector, sanitation, food, and water safety.
  • Maricopa County: Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and the largest county in Arizona by population, requires at least one person on staff to be trained as a Certified Food Protection Manager. Someone with this certification must be either physically present or reachable at all times during the restaurant’s operation.

Where to go for online training and certification

For counties that do require food handler training, you will have to receive training and be certified through a course that is accredited by the ANSI. A full list of the 22 ANSI accredited programs can be found on their website

While many counties will accept certification by any ANSI program, the Arizona Restaurant Association recommends ServSafe training. This is a program run by the National Restaurant Association that is designed to meet requirements across the country. 

What’s in the training course?

While there is no statewide regulation that covers whether you need food handler training, there is statewide legislation that lays out what must be included in the training. According to Arizona House Bill 2436, all training must address:

  • Time and temperature and how it relates to foodborne illness
  • Standards for personal hygiene and food safety
  • Preventing contamination in all stages of food handling
  • Proper cleaning and sanitizing equipment and utensils
  • Problems and solutions when issues arise regarding temperature control, cross-contamination, housekeeping, and maintenance 

Once training in these areas is complete, students will have to pass a test to achieve certification.

More: A full checklist of everything you need to start a restaurant

Getting certified

A few other things worth knowing before you start the certification process:

  • Location: While there are physical locations where training and certification are offered, most courses are available to complete online.
  • Price: Price for the course may vary. Many trainings and certifications are currently available for $10 or less.”
  • Time: Be sure to block out a decent amount of time, as courses take anywhere from one to three hours to complete.
  • Passing: Tests will generally have 40 questions and require answers anywhere from 70% to 80% correctly in order to pass. If employees fail to pass the test, don’t panic. Most programs allow you to retake it.
  • Validity: Generally, a food handler card will be valid for three years. This can vary between two and four years depending on a specific county’s requirements.

Make sure you meet all requirements

While these steps will satisfy the requirements of most counties in Arizona, it is still worth visiting your county’s website to verify that you are in compliance. Also if you are a culinary student or if you work for a nonprofit organization, your county may have a program that allows you to have your fees waived. Your county website will have specific information on fee waivers and any other requirements or exceptions.

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