The 12 Days of California Labor and Employment Series – Day 11 "Food Handler Card Cost Shifts to Employer"

In the spirit of the season, we are using our annual "12 days of the holidays" blog series to address new California laws and their impact on California employers. On the eleventh day of the holidays, my labor and employment attorney gave to me eleven pipers piping and SB 476.

Current LawThe 12 Days of California Labor and Employment Series – Day 11 "Food Handler Card Cost Shifts to Employer"

The California Retail Food Code regulates health and sanitation standards for retail food facilities by the State Department of Public Health. With a few exceptions, a food handler must obtain a food handler card within 30 days of their hire date and maintain a valid food handler card for the duration of their employment as a food handler.

To obtain a food handler card, one must complete a food handler training course and examination that meets certain requirements. The code requires that at least one food handler training course and examination cost no more than $15, including a food handler card. Failure to obtain a food handler card when required is considered a misdemeanor. Before the enactment of SB 476, this cost was the worker's responsibility.

A food handler card is good for three years from the date of issuance. For the most part, the card is recognized throughout California and is transferrable from employer to employer as a worker obtains new employment.


A food handler card is not required for a food handler employed by the following employers:

  • Certified farmer's markets
  • Commissaries
  • Grocery stores, except for separately owned food facilities located in the grocery store, to which SB 476 otherwise applies
  • For purposes of this paragraph, "grocery store" means a store primarily engaged in the retail sale of canned food, dry goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, fish, and poultry, and any area—that is not separately owned within the store—where food is prepared and served, including a bakery, deli, and meat and seafood counter. "Grocery store" includes convenience stores.
  • Licensed health care facilities
  • Mobile support units
  • Public and private school cafeterias
  • Restricted food service facilities
  • Retail stores in which a majority of sales are from a pharmacy and venues with snack bar service in which the majority of sales are from admission tickets, but excluding any area in which restaurant-style sit-down service is provided
  • A food facility that provides in-house food safety training to all employees involved in the preparation, storage, or service of food that meets certain requirements
  • A food facility that is subject to a collective bargaining agreement with its food handlers
  • Any city, county, state, or regional facility used for the confinement of adults or minors, including, but not limited to, a county jail, juvenile hall, camp, ranch, or residential facility
  • An elderly nutrition program administered by the California Department of Aging, according to the Older Americans Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 3001 et seq.), as amended

SB 476

With the enactment of SB 476 on January 1, 2024, employers have a few new requirements for food handlers.

  1. An employer must pay for the employees' training costs and issue a food handler card.
  2. An employer must pay an employee's time engaged in the training program as compensable hours worked.
  3. An employer must pay an employee for any necessary expenditures or losses associated with the employee obtaining a food handler card.
  4. An employer shall relieve an employee of all other work duties while the employee is taking the training course and examination.
  5. An employee cannot condition employment on an applicant or employee having an existing food handler card.

Lastly, SB 476 dictates that by January 1, 2025, the department shall post on its internet website a link to the internet website of ANSI-accredited food handler training programs. A local public health department shall provide a link to that web page on its own internet website.


The new requirements are likely to increase an employer's labor costs as they now have to provide training for a food handler card during business hours when the employee cannot be doing anything else at that same time and pay for that time. Employers will need to monitor this time carefully to ensure no violations of wage and hour laws as well. 

In addition, an employer cannot condition an applicant's employment based on the person already having a food handler card for the employer to avoid the cost and time for the person to obtain the food handler card. 

Next Steps for Employers

  1. Handbooks and policies should be updated advising what costs will be paid for by the employer. 
  2. Management should be trained on the new processes to properly handle scheduling and recording of hours worked so employees are paid accurately. 

It is also recommended that employers maintain records detailing the issuance and expiration dates of food handler cards so they may be prepared and plan in advance when one is up for renewal.