Clean and safe commercial kitchens led by ServSafe certified managers are what the ServSafe certification program strives to create.

ServSafe Certification: Putting Your Business (and Food Safety) Ahead

The Workplace Today Regulation

ServSafe certification from the National Restaurant Association offers three main programs for managers, frontline employees and front-of-house staff.

Restaurants — as well as bars, convenience stores, concessions and other establishments that carry food — are required to train their employees in food safety and sanitation. There are many certifications available nationally, including ServSafe certification from the National Restaurant Association. ServSafe offers three main programs:

  • ServSafe Manager, which is what most people mean when they say, “ServSafe”;
  • ServSafe Food Handler, which is a short course in basic food safety for frontline employees; and
  • ServSafe Alcohol, which teaches responsible alcohol service for front-of-house staff.

Required by most departments of health in the U.S., the ServSafe Manager course is available online or in person at various locations and is taught by registered instructors who have been trained to teach the program. The in-person course is usually held over one full day with independent study required or over two full days from start to finish.

What ServSafe Offers

Prices vary but companies should budget about $250 per person for the course. The online course costs $125, plus $36 for the online examination voucher. There may be additional exam proctoring fees. The in-person course requires a textbook, the exam voucher or answer sheet, as well as the tuition, which is set by the individual instructor or institution. Instructors may be independent, in-house trainers at a company or may be affiliated with a restaurant association, university or community college, or other organization.

Regardless of the format, the course includes information on the latest FDA Food Code, food safety research and sanitation training. It also covers time and temperature control, cross-contamination, cleaning and sanitizing, safe food preparation and storage and more. In short, the course covers the main topics you’ll need to know to run a safe and sanitary food service operation.

The Road to ServSafe Certification

There are some common challenges that many businesses face when getting their staff certified. As a long-time registered ServSafe instructor and hospitality educator, here are some considerations for having a great experience with ServSafe certification:

  • Start with your local health department. While ServSafe is a national certification, it’s up to the state or municipality to determine whether they accept the certification and who must hold it. For example, some places may require a food handler certification for everyone who handles food. Others may require a manager certification for one person on site during all hours of operation, and others may simply require that an owner or manager be certified. Some municipalities require that you file for an additional local certificate or take an exam on the applicable state or local codes.
  • Ask for a custom class if you have more than a handful of employees to train. While it may not be required, it’s a good practice to make sure as many of your employees as possible are ServSafe certified. Many instructors will agree to hold a custom class at convenient times at your location if you have a cohort.
  • Don’t buy used. If you are buying the ServSafe textbook, read the information carefully. A new textbook often includes the exam answer sheet or voucher for the online exam, a $36 value. Buying a used book may seem like a great deal, but you will then need to buy the exam separately.
  • Choose the right language. ServSafe materials are available in English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean and the exams are available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French. For non-native speakers, it’s a great trick to request the exam in another language as the English translation is also included, possibly giving the trainee two ways to think about the question.
  • Take the practice exam, which is available both online and in class. Many of the practice questions are close to the ones on the actual exam.

Having qualified ServSafe certified managers and food handlers can reduce the risk of food borne illness among your guests. It also helps preserve your reputation, protect you from civil or even criminal liability, reduce insurance premiums and keep you complaint with the law.

Jonathan Deutsch
Jonathan Deutsch

Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D., is Professor of Culinary Arts & Food Science at Drexel University. He oversees the Drexel Food Lab, a product development and food innovation lab that solves real world problems. He is the author or editor of six books including Barbecue: A Global History (with Megan Elias), Culinary Improvisation, and Gastropolis: Food and Culture in New York City (with Annie Hauck-Lawson). When not in the kitchen, he can be found behind his tuba.