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.