Food safety certification lays the foundation for a healthy and successful business. However, there is no one sweeping federal mandate for food safety education or training. Each state not only sets its own regulations–there can be county-to-county (or even city-to-city!) variations.
Tiffany Nabozny, the Nutrition Resource Center Manager at Gordon Food Service, says, “Similar to other government agencies, states have the right to adopt the federal food code as is, or make changes to it at the state or even a county level to become more restrictive, not less restrictive.”
One state, in particular, has changed its food code to require two levels of food safety certification.
The Ohio Department of Health requires certain food establishment staff to have either a Person-in-Charge Certification (formerly Level One) or a Manager Certification (formerly Level Two), or both.
In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about Ohio’s food safety certification requirements. We’ll break down:
Why does Ohio have two different levels of certification?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of each certification, you may be wondering why Ohio would require two different types of certification when other states simply require managers to pass a certification exam. Risk and financial considerations are the two primary reasons the State of Ohio developed requirements for two levels of food safety certification.
In general, some foods pose more hazards to human health than others. The health department assigns foodservice risk levels to an establishment based on how specific products and ingredients they offer rate on a hazard scale, and that determines which of the four risk levels applies.
Nabozny notes, “The level of [risk in an] operation is based on the types of foods you prepare and the clientele you serve.”
The Ohio Department of Health then uses these foodservice risk levels to help differentiate which of the two levels of certification staff at a particular establishment must earn.
What are the foodservice risk levels in Ohio?
Rule 3721-21-02.3 of the Ohio Administrative Code clearly defines the risk levels.1 According to Jamie Higley, an Ohio Department of Health (DOH) administrator, these risk levels “are assigned by local health districts when licenses are issued [to an establishment].”
Let’s look at how the Ohio Administrative Code defines these risk levels.
Level I establishments pose a “potential risk to the public in terms of sanitation food labeling, sources of food, storage practices, or expiration dates.”
Examples include operations that sell coffee and self-service fountain drinks; pre-packaged foods (refrigerated, frozen, and non-temperature controlled); baby food and formula; and food delivery.
Level II establishments pose a higher risk to the public due to hand contact or employee health concerns. A Level II designation means that there is still minimal risk of pathogenic growth.
Examples include businesses where staff handle, heat treat, or prepare non-time/temperature-controlled foods, hold temperature-controlled foods for sale, and offer individually packaged, commercially prepared foods to serve immediately.
Level III establishments pose an even higher risk to public safety because new elements are involved in food preparation. Proper cooking, cooling, and holding temperatures are factors, as are contamination and bacterial load reduction procedures.
Some examples of Level III risks include businesses where staff handle, cut, and grind raw meats; slice ready-to-eat meats; assemble or cook ready-to-serve temperature-controlled food that’s served immediately; operate a freezer; reheat individual portions of food; or heat a sealed product.
Level IV establishments pose the highest risk because they serve food with several preparation steps, and multiple temperature controls may be involved, which can increase the risk of the temperature danger zone. Freezing is used to reduce parasite destruction.
An establishment that reheats bulk quantities of food more than once every seven days or a catering business that transports temperature-controlled foods would be designated as a Level IV operation, as would an assisted living community that serves immunocompromised clientele.
Simply put, the four levels clarify the level of risk that an operation poses to public health–and this makes a lot of sense since selling a cup of coffee is much safer than serving a steak dinner!
“[I]t actually makes sense in the way that not all food service operations are created equal,” says Nabozny, “having the tiers helps ensure the staff is trained in the food safety measures they will encounter.”
Requiring all kitchen staff to earn a high-level certification adds up quickly (especially for a large kitchen or franchise chain).
Some large, national companies, like Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Akron, OH, cover the cost of certification across their entire business, says Rich Titschler, Chef Partner/Executive Chef. However, smaller businesses–coffee shops or food trucks–might have a large staff but a smaller budget.
The two levels of food safety certification in Ohio are specifically geared towards the leadership of an operation–with the understanding that owners, operators, managers, and persons in charge create a positive culture of food safety among their staff.
Who needs a Person-In-Charge Certification?
The Ohio Department of Health established the Person-In-Charge Certification in 2010. The state requires certain retail food establishments and foodservice operations to have a designated person in charge present during all hours of operation.
No matter the risk level, you may be required to earn a Person-In-Charge Certification before starting a leadership position at a food business if your establishment:
Received a license after March 1, 2010,
Has been implicated in a foodborne disease outbreak, or
Failed to maintain sanitary conditions set forth by the health department.
Higley explains that Ohio established the Person-In-Charge Certification “to ensure a trained and certified Person-In-Charge is available in a food facility during all hours of operation when a manager may not be available.”
How do I get a Person-In-Charge Certification?
If you work in Ohio, you must complete an approved course that includes a written or verbal exercise at the end to receive a Person-In-Charge Certification.
Unsure if your course of choice is approved? The Ohio Department of Health maintains a list of approved providers who have had their training programs reviewed and verified by a department representative.
How long is my Person-In-Charge Certification valid?
The Ohio Department of Health does not set an expiration date for your Person-In-Charge Certification, however, the course provider may set an expiration date (a good reminder to always check the fine print!).
Who needs a Manager Certification?
The Ohio Department of Health established the Food Safety Certification program in 1973, and it initially was required of managers at establishments of every risk level. It aimed to provide managers with detailed knowledge of food safety and facility management.
As of March 1, 2017, foodservice operations and retail food establishments designated with risk levels III and IV must have at least one employee on staff who has obtained a Manager Certification from an approved provider. The rule applies to each physical facility–and the Ohio Department of Health clarified that a certified individual cannot serve more than one physical location.
These designated employees must have “supervisory and management responsibility and the authority to direct and control food preparation and service.”
How do I get a Manager Certification?
It takes more work to earn a Manager Certification in Ohio. Candidates must take an approved course and pass a certification exam from an approved provider.
You should double-check the Department of Health’s list of approved online courses and the ANAB-Conference For Food Protection’s list of approved certification exam providers before you purchase access to either part of the program.
Note: if you choose to take an instructor-led course (rather than an online course), the instructor may need to complete a Confirmation of Class form.
How long is my Manager Certification valid?
There is no expiration date set by the Ohio Department of Health for a Manager Certification; however, course providers are allowed to set their own expiration dates, and the guidelines set forth by ANAB and the Conference for Food Protection require candidates to re-take their certification exams every five years.
What if I’ve already taken a Manager Certification course not approved by Ohio?
Suppose you’ve taken a training and an exam and received Certified Food Protection Manager credentials in another state. In that case, you might wonder if your credentials carry over (the process is time-consuming, we know!).
Before you purchase a new course or access to a new exam, the Ohio Department of Health provides an application process that allows you to submit your course of study to the department for approval.
What if I want to proctor an exam or provide training directly to my team?
Having someone on-site certified to proctor exams or deliver training for your team may seem like a good idea. Titschler himself took the time to become an approved proctor for the Management Certification.
“For our restaurants and having to have all managers certified, [me becoming a proctor] is for ease of operation rather than trying to hunt down a proctor. Also, proctors from the outside have the right to charge the individual test taker if they wish. I do not charge but only certify individuals inside my restaurant.”
However, scheduling a testing or training session for multiple candidates can be tricky–we know making shift schedules is hard enough! While an on-site proctor might give operators some peace of mind, the speed and convenience of an online certification program are making digital formats grow in popularity.
Do I need a Person-In Charge Certification to get a Manager Certification?
No, not at all!
In fact, Jamie Higley, an Ohio Department of Health administrator, says the Person-in-Charge Certification is a way to “offer a lower cost option to individuals as it relates to their job duties.”2
Higley explains, “The Ohio Uniform Food Safety Code, which is based on the FDA Model Food Code, simply requires higher-risk food facilities to have a certified manager on staff.” Lower-risk facilities may not be required to have a certified manager on the team at all.
Foodservice operations or retail food establishments with a risk level I, II, III, or IV (that’s all of them!) must have a designated individual with a Person-In-Charge Certification onsite during all hours of operation. If someone who has earned a Manager Certification is present, another individual with a Person-In-Charge Certification is not required.
In addition to the person in charge requirement, establishments with a risk level III or IV must have at least one member of the management team in a supervisory role with a Manager Certification. The Cincinnati Health Department provides the clarification that the individual with a Manager Certification should be available to their team, but they do not need to be on-site at all hours of operation.
Does my team need food handler certificates or cards?
The State of Ohio does not require food handler certificates, but managers and persons in charge can consider offering this training as part of the onboarding process.
What is a food handler certificate in the first place? A food handler training is like a 101-level course for anyone in the kitchen who–wait for it–handles food (think line cooks, expo, servers, baristas, etc.) A food handler is completely different from a food manager.
A food handler card could be considered a stepping stone towards eventually getting a manager certification, and providing them to your staff can contribute to your overall team retention strategy–not to mention a way to lower the food safety risks across your business.
Remember, the more everyone in the kitchen knows about food safety, the safer your establishment and the food you serve will be.
Food safety certifications are critical to ensuring the safety and success of any food business. While federal guidelines lay the foundation, it's important to remember that food safety regulations vary from state to state and even county to county. Ohio’s two levels of certification–Person-In-Charge and Manager Certification–are just one example of how these variations play out around the country.
Ultimately, prioritizing food safety training and certification protects customers and contributes to the overall success of your business. So, whether you're operating a large restaurant or a small food truck, investing in food safety education remains a critical part of your operation.