Solving the Certification Mystery

Kimberly Whiteside Truitt, CFM
January 2018

With ominous dread, our kitchen crew expected “the visit” any day now. Health inspector drop-ins typically occur in the midst of summer camp chaos, the busiest time of year for camp professionals. This time was no exception. With clipboard in hand, the inspector slowly and deliberately migrated from station to station, dwelling a bit longer in some areas. After the inspector handed over our well-graded inspection report, said goodbye, and the kitchen door slammed behind her, my kitchen staff released audible sighs. “YES! We can relax now.”

Of course, our kitchen crews should never fully relax. Any conscientious kitchen staff will follow state health department procedures and regulations because they want their campers, camper parents, camp staff, and community to relax, knowing that they and/or those they love are being taken care of because those staff members have been trained, certified, and are following the most stringent rules of food safety.

Finding the right certification program can be formidable for many reasons. Perhaps the food service manager (FSM) has always used the same certification body and instruction/exam method, renews when needed, and ensures his staff gets their credentials renewed when due. If this FSM leaves your camp, a new FSM may arrive with a certification from a different organization — and in some states, this certification may not meet local guidelines. Camp directors, if you have a gap between loss of your FSM and the hiring of a replacement, you may have to follow up on your staff certifications. You may be placed in the position of hiring a new kitchen employee whose certification has expired, or one who is an excellent cook but has never worked in a commercial kitchen and, therefore, has never been certified. In either case, you may have to do some homework to decide which certification body is the best fit for your kitchen staff.

How Do I Find Certification Requirements for My Camp?

Follow these steps to find the certification requirements for your camp:

  1. Check your state health department requirements first, as they may list a specific certification program preference or requirement, or they may offer program options to choose from.
  2. Check local/city/county certification requirements if your state does not require county/city health departments to accept state-approved program certifications.
  3. Have patience. You may need to spend ample time researching within multitudes of regulations to find this information. For example, to find this information for camps in Texas, search online:
    a. Go to Texas State Department of Health Services (TSDHS) Youth Camp Laws (dshs.texas.gov/youthcamp/laws-rules.aspx).
    b. Find Related Rules and Regulations listed on the page.
    c. Click on Chapter 228, Texas Food Establishment Rules.
    d. Choose SUBCHAPTER B.
    e. Then find 228.33 Certified Food Protection Manager and Food Handler Requirements. 

In this regulation paragraph you will uncover Texas’s requirements for a Certified Food Manager who has proved proficiency by “passing a test that is part of an accredited program” (emphasis mine) and Certified Food Handler by completion of “an accredited food handler training course within 60 days of employment” (TSDHS, 2017b).

Where Do I Find an Accredited Program?

This was literally the question I asked out loud in my search, as there is no link in the text of the “Youth Camp Rules” or the “228.33 Certified Food Protection Manager” pages that takes you to accredited programs. Turning to my search engine once again, I found a TDSHS page specific to food manager certification, dshs.texas.gov/food-managers/certification.aspx. Here, I found the missing piece to certification in Texas — the required accredited program: “Examinations offered through training programs and test sites are accredited through American National Standards Institute, or ANSI — Conference for Food Protection (ANSI-CFP). Certified Food Manager Certificates issued through these providers receive national reciprocity” (TDSHS, 2017).

The Texas website goes on to assert that city and county health departments are required to accept certifications of any Texas DSHS-approved, accredited entities, with the exception of local health jurisdictions. Depending on the way your state’s information is organized, you may also have to do some digging.

Choose an Accredited Program for Your Staff

The ANSI website has a list of 17 Accredited Food Service Handler Programs, found at ansi.org/Accreditation/credentialing/certificate-
issuers/AllDirectoryListing?prgID=237,
238&statusID=4. When you click on the link for any of the programs, you find courses for both Food Service Protection Manager Certification, and Food Handler for general kitchen staff members. Some of these programs only offer certification to certain states, such as 123 Premier Food Safety, which services the states of California, Illinois, Florida, Texas, and Utah. Certification course and exam methods vary with providers, some offering a class administered by a proctor and also an online course. For example, ServSafe, the nation’s leading food safety training and certification program of the National Restaurant Association, allows individuals to take the course taught by an instructor, and then take the exam online (ANSI, 2017). This flexibility in formats allows camps to choose based on employee needs.

One year our food service staff attended class together. The next day I led my team in a seminar of sorts, making a practice quiz into fun question and answer sessions. This time together allowed employees to ask questions for clarity, provided accountability as we all learned the same material together, and also served as a time to bond as a team. Our kitchen employees then took the online exam individually.

The wide variety of food service certification courses also offers a bonus — an assortment of pricing options. Here are some examples of the range in online Food Manager Protection Certification pricing:

  • ServSafe — $125 for online training course, $36 for certification voucher
  • Learn2Serve — $55
  • 123 Premier Food Safety — from $69 to $129, packages from exam only to online training, certification exam, certification upon passing, study guide, practice test, and training guarantee
  • State Food Safety — three packages available: $28, exam only; $62, online training, practice test; $72 for training, practice test, and certification exam. (Prices vary by state. South Carolina was the selected state for this example.)

Benefits of Food Protection Certification

The benefits of Food Protection Certification for kitchen food handlers and managers should not be a mystery. Although we all know that these certifications are required and verify that we can legally operate camp kitchens, safety for guests and staff, and professional accountability, they should also spur us to exemplify stellar quality in camp food service. As Walt Disney famously said, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do” (2014).

Reference

American National Standards Institute. (2017). Food handler training certificate program (accredited). Retrieved from ansi.org/Accreditation/credentialing/certificate-issuers/AllDirectoryListing?prgID=237,238&statusID=4

Disney, W. (2014, March 7). 32 Walt Disney quotes that will help you find your passion in life. Retrieved from http://quotivee.com/2014/articles/32-walt-disney-quotes

Texas State Department of Health Services. (2017) Requirements for individuals seeking food manager certification. Retrieved from dshs.texas.gov/food-managers/certification.aspx

Texas State Department of Health Services. (2017b). Youth camp laws. Retrieved from dshs.texas.gov/youthcamp/laws-rules.aspx


Kimberly Whiteside Truitt, CFM, has been food service director for Camp Gilmont and Camp Zephyr, and has served as a member of Camping Magazine’s Editorial Advisory Committee for six years. Kimberly is married to Thomas and mom to Harrison and Benjamin.