Some industries require workers to obtain a food handler's card or permit. This card indicates that the person serving or preparing food is aware of and agrees to abide by all of the necessary sanitation and safety standards required by his local or state department of health. The amount of time it takes to obtain a food handler's card can vary and is largely dependent upon health department requirements.


Two basic methods are often used to obtain a food handler's card by those wanting to work in the food service industry. One of the more common methods is to sign up for a course through the local or state health department. These courses typically take about one afternoon to complete, depending upon the required curriculum. The other way to obtain a permit is through online instruction. These courses can be completed at a convenient time and usually take about two to three hours to complete.

In-Class Curriculum

The required curriculum for a food handler's class depends upon local and state laws regarding food sanitation, although they are often determined by the same general principles used by many state health departments. Classes usually include studies in areas like temperature control and its effect on food sanitation, personal hygiene of food handlers, basic sanitation principles and proper food handling practices, building and facility sanitation, and food production safety standards.

Online Courses

Online courses are similar to the courses offered by local and state health departments. The courses are delivered online through streaming video or a series of slide shows and text. Coursework covers many of the same areas as in-person classes, such as food hazards, physical hazards in the food establishment and food service industry, chemical and biological contamination of foods, personal hygiene and the prevention of cross contamination of food.

Other Considerations

A food handler's permit generally costs about $10 (at the time of publication), but may vary by location. If you plan to take a course offered by your local health department, bear in mind that some health departments have limited capacity and may turn away applicants if classes fill up. Arriving early or registering over the phone or online can help you avoid delays. Most food handling classes require a short examination following the completion of the required class. This may add an additional 30 minutes to an hour to the process. Online classes allow you to print your permit immediately upon completion. Local health departments may have varying turnaround times. Some print cards immediately and others send them in the mail.