Sanitation and preventing food-borne illness is one of the top priorities of all bar owners. A food handlers card, obtained by all employees, goes a long way in preventing any kind of foodborne illness.

So, do bartenders need a food handlers card? Yes, in many states. Food handling training is required in many jurisdictions – and may soon become mandatory across the country.

It all starts with sanitation. In particular, the sanitation and hygiene habits of the bar’s employees. They must be well – trained, and many States are going to MAKE SURE all restaurant and bar employees receive the proper training.

Human Resources, the bar manager, or his boss, will usually ensure that all employees are up to date with their certificates.

After all, failing to display an “A” rating in that front window could be the difference between staying open – and shutting down for good.

Do Bartenders Need a Food Handler’s Card?

As a brand-new bartender, you may need a “Food Handler’s Card” or “Certification.” It all depends upon your State, County, or Local laws.

If food servers are required to have one, then most likely bartenders will too. And management. Cooks will definitely need to acquire one.

You may also need some sort of “Alcohol Awareness Training.” Alcohol Awareness Training is discussed in a different post. Do not be confused – these are two totally different topics!

States, Counties, and Cities all have their own rules and regulations. If your do not have a food handler’s card, the bar may require you to obtain one before working – it all depends upon the local regulations.

Every State is different, so go online and look up the regulations in your current State. These laws change constantly, and, once hired, most Bar Owners will make sure you’re up-to-date.

How are Restaurants and Bars Rated?

Basically, in the United States, all restaurants and bars are rated A, B, or C on their cleanliness, with “A” being the desired overall rating. It’s all about preventing food-borne illness, and it’s a fairly simple rating system.

How a bar’s cleanliness is rated:

  • A Rating – Looks good! No code violations
  • B Rating – Some violations. Customers will notice
  • C Rating – Ouch. They’re risking immediate closure

Bar owners are responsible for their bar’s ratings. Yes, they’re going to make sure their employees are following all of the rules and regulations – but the buck stops with them.

Get Food Handling Training Before the Bartender Interview

States, counties, and cities are rapidly moving towards mandatory sanitation and food borne illness training for the Food & Beverage industry. Make no mistake – if you walk into an interview already certified in food handling procedures– you’re a step ahead of the crowd.

Red Wine and Food Entre

Don’t wait to be trained after you get the job! Why wouldn’t you show the Interviewers a little initiative? They will take notice, believe me. In fact, during the interview they may even ask if you have a Food Handler’s Card. Be prepared!

Will the job interviewer ask me about handling food and beverages in a sanitary manner? Possibly. For bartenders, properly washing glasses and handling food items in a sanitary manner are a very important part of the job.

Most bars now serve food – get used to it. You may run across a bar manager who really takes sanitation to heart. He may throw in some “food borne illness” or “ideal bar cooler temperatures” into the mix of interview questions. 

Example Interview Question: “It’s a busy Saturday night here at Mark’s Bar, and you realize that you have run out of sanitizer for the third sink of our 3-sink glass washing station. What do you do Armando?”

A Good Answer: “I would immediately notify the manager on duty and see if he knows of some sort of secret stash of sanitizer. If that fails, I would cease washing glasses behind the bar and send them all to the kitchen to be washed and properly sanitized.” Good answer!

Bartender Food Handler Card Mistakes

A bartender should know all about food borne illness and proper sanitation – prior to sitting down for an interview. Be prepared! Keep your card up to date, and be ready to show it to the interviewer.

And, make sure you pay attention in the Food Handling Class so you don’t have to repeat it. Avoid these pitfalls:

  • Having no idea what the interviewer is talking about when he asks if you have a Food Handler’s Card.
  • Allowing Food Handler’s Card to expire.
  • Falsified card. Yes, I actually had an applicant try to pass off a fake card.
  • Not paying attention in the class and failing the exam. (Pretty hard to do!)
  • Not paying attention. Period. It’s a great class and you’ll learn a lot.

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the “Food Code.” This organization simply provides guidelines to establish food safety rules. You don’t need to know anything more about them!

How To Get a Bartenders Food Handlers Card

Obtaining a “Food Handler’s Card” or certification is no big deal. For example, San Diego County, California, requires all bartenders (and other staff) to get one. I did. They make it fairly easy to acquire one. I’ll use San Diego County as a reference as we dig deeper.

Note: Some jurisdictions allow the Bar Manager, or someone else in a management position at the bar, to administer the test and exam. This designated person MUST attend a longer, advanced class to get certified as an instructor.

Bar Customer Showing Fake ID

The advantage of this is that now the bar can give the class to all employees of that bar only. On the flip side, if you were to quit your job at this bar, then you would have to start all over. Therefore, it is to your advantage to obtain your own card that is good anywhere in the State/County.

For your information, and a good idea of what the training is all about, San Diego County has a training booklet located here. Follow the link and scroll down to their Food Handler Booklet link.

And, if the subject comes up during the interview process, it’s always nice to say “I already have my food handler’s card.”

Here’s how it Food Handling Training works in San Diego:

  • Go online and search for a class near you
  • Usually around 3 full hours of class time
  • Cost is somewhere around $10
  • Card is good for 3 years
  • You must pass an exam at the end of the course

The class is very interesting – and fairly easy. Just pay attention and you’ll do just fine. Don’t leave before you get the “Official” card!

Food handler’s Class Topics

Not all classes are the same, of course. And some instructors will focus on what they believe to be most important. Don’t sweat it – just go with the flow.

The below topics that you’ll cover in class are fairly standard. These are just a few of the things you’ll cover. There’s likely many more – with a lot of detail. To be honest, I always enjoyed this classes and learned a lot.

  • Foodborne Illness
  • Employee Health and Hygiene
  • Protection from Contamination
  • Temperature Control
  • Approved Food Sources
  • Equipment and Utencils
  • Pest Control
  • Garbage and Refuse
  • Signs and Other Requirements

Pay attention so you can pass the test. In all honesty, the test is not hard and I have never heard of anyone failing it.

Food Handler’s Card Final Thoughts

You actually get a nice little card. Looks very professional! When you get hired as a bartender, the Bar Manager, or Human Resources, will ask for your card, copy it, and then give it back to you.

If you took the class at your place of employment, you may not receive an actual “card.” Management will simply certify you and keep a handy list in the office should a Health Inspector ask for it. Simple.

Any bar you work at is required to have food safety inspections. The Bar Health inspector will make periodic visits, so knowing how to properly handle food and beverage items will go a long way towards passing these inspections.

Related Bartending Topics

Will the Health Inspector ask for my Food Handler’s Card? Maybe. But most likely he’ll head back to the office and look at all of the employee’s cards. Don’t get caught without one!

Do I need any sort of training to get a bartending job? Yes, in most cases. Some places will hire from within or take a chance on inexperienced bartenders. Don’t bet on it, and get your Bartender Training here.

If you’re following along in the Basic Bartending Course:

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Previous Lesson: General Bar Sanitation Practices

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