How to Get a Food Handler's License in New Jersey
There's no such thing as a New Jersey food handler's license as such. The state's Department of Health doesn't issue its own licenses or even certifications, leaving basic food handling to the discretion of individual counties and municipalities. If you search "state of New Jersey food handler's certificate" or comparable keywords, you'll find a mixture of private trainers, industry groups and county offices offering training.
The Department of Health in New Jersey does make one form of certification mandatory for most food service establishments. At least one person in each operation must be designated to receive manager-level food safety training in order to oversee the entire food preparation process. That might be the chef, the restaurateur or a designated senior employee.
The official title for this designated person is Certified Food Protection Manager. Colloquially and casually, this certification is referred to as a manager's food handler's card. The training is available from a handful of sources, including the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals, Thomson Prometric and various trainers under the National Restaurant Association's ServSafe training program.
The training for food protection managers includes the same basic food handling practices covered under any food handler certification program, but it also goes well beyond those food safety basics. Trainees will also be required to know and understand New Jersey's food safety requirements and to understand the principles of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points.
That latter requirement, usually abbreviated as HACCP, is crucial. It means the manager understands how to identify points in the food preparation process where food safety is at risk and can construct a process – a "HACCP plan" – that will mitigate the risks and put controls in place to monitor the work and make sure it follows appropriate procedures.
Since 2010, it's been mandatory for most food service establishments in New Jersey to have at least one person on staff who's a certified food protection manager. That person is usually part of the ownership or management group, or a family member in the case of small operations, because restaurants are high-turnover businesses and losing your sole certified staffer would be a crippling blow.
The law doesn't demand that this person always be present while the establishment is open because that would put a ridiculously heavy burden on the manager. Instead, a designated Person in Charge, or PIC, oversees operations while the certified manager isn't present. The certified manager is ultimately responsible for food safety in the establishment but trains each PIC to oversee food safety effectively.
The state of New Jersey itself doesn't mandate a standard food handler certificate for cooks and prep staff, but counties and municipalities often do. Some individual employers might also make certification a requirement even where it's not legally required. If you don't know for sure whether certification is required in your jurisdiction, contact your local department of health.
The training required for a standard food handling certificate isn't as broad as the managers' training, though it's still rigorous in its own way. The training revolves around "best practices" in food handling. This starts with cleaning, sanitation and personal hygiene and goes on to cover the importance of time and temperature in maintaining food safety. Further training modules cover the risk of cross-contamination between foods and details such as the handling of leftovers and the cooling and reheating of foods or recipe components such as sauces and stocks.
Certifications are valid for a set period of time, usually three to five years. In most cases, the certification can be renewed during its term by retaking the certification exam. Once the certification has lapsed, you'll usually need to take the training again from start to finish.