Food Handlers Study Guide: Pass the Food Handlers Certification Exam

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: February 23, 2022  •  8 min read  •  Hospitality
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No one wants their Chicken Cacciatore with a side of salmonella.

In food service, the way we keep guests safe is through proper food handling. And the way we ensure proper food handling is the ServSafe food handlers certification.

The ServSafe program is administered by the National Restaurant Association. The program offers five certifications: Food Handling, Alcohol, Allergens, Workplace, and Management.

Each certification area ensures food safety in a specific area of the restaurant.

If you are going to get one of these certifications, how can you be sure you will be successful? We’ve got a food handlers study guide that will help you be as prepared as you possibly can. Keep reading for more.

Food Handler Study Guide

Do I Need My ServSafe Certification?

The first question here is whether you need your certification at all.

Most major restaurant chains require the certification no matter where you work. But even if you work for a small, privately owned business, certification may be a requirement.

It really depends on where you live.

The ServSafe testing site divides states up by their requirements. Nine states require only a “Demonstration of Knowledge”. Another twenty-nine require the actual food handler certification. The remaining twelve vary based on county.

What this means is that, in all states, you will be required to at least demonstrate your knowledge of proper food safety and handling.

So how can you set yourself up to pass the test? We’ve got your study guide right here.

1. Take it Seriously

This is not the time to flash back to high school ceramics. You can’t phone in this test if you want to continue working in the restaurant industry.

One of the most important parts of any tests in your mindset going in. Before you even start studying, make sure your attitude and mindset for the test are appropriate.

2. Give Yourself Time

Your food handler certification test will take about two hours to complete, and can be taken, really, whenever you wish. It’s a simple matter of working through the online course and then finishing the assessment.

Easy, right? Why not just get it out of the way immediately?

And you may have a time limit imposed by your state or employer encouraging you to get it done. But if you can, give yourself a bit of time before taking the test. Allow yourself the time to study and be confident in your knowledge before taking the test so that you can go in knowing you will do well.

3. Watch for Trick Words

The ServSafe test loves to play games with words. Occasionally they will throw in answers that are just silly, or words that make the answer almost right.

Answers like that are in the test to trip you up and to weed out test takers who aren’t really paying attention. Read each question carefully, and think about what the answers really mean.

Going slowly and really taking the time to understand your options among the multiple choice answers will help you keep your score high.

4. Don’t Be Tricked by Similar Answers

Another favorite trick of the ServSafe program? Answers that are similar but not identical. Again, this is to trip up the less than observant test taker.

The makers of the test are betting that you will see an answer that sounds about right, not read it deeply enough to realize it is a bit off and get the answer wrong. Or, that you will think there has been a mistake and the test has two of the same choice, so it doesn’t matter which one you pick.

This is a common tactic on the test, so make sure you really read the choices and are sure you have the correct answer before submitting it.

5. Watch for Qualifying Words

The ServSafe test loves words like always, never, all and none. These words may seem inconsequential, but they can make a huge difference, especially in questions regarding sanitation and temperatures.

Words like best and worst are this way, as well. The test may be asking you for the “best” method of doing something. Then it may give you more than one answer that is a workable method. Your job is to then choose the best response even if both answers are technically correct.

6. When in Doubt, Channel Sherlock Holmes

Getting the right answer may require a bit of amateur sleuthing if you are unsure.

Obviously, you should study and know the right answers ahead of time, but even the most prepared student can get stumped.

If you find yourself unsure of an answer, check for the following:

7. Ask for Help

This is no time to pretend you have it under control if you are confused.

If you have trouble taking tests or are worried about retaining the information, ask for help. There is no shame in this, and getting the assistance of an experienced food professional can be helpful for more than just your test score.

Ask your manager or a fellow cook who has been in the kitchen for a while. They’ve taken the certification, probably several times, and can help you with what sorts of questions to expect and the best ways to study.

Plus, getting help like this helps you form essential relationships in the kitchen that will help you during your career. Being unafraid to ask for help is a leadership skill, and if you are looking to make a career out of the restaurant industry, displaying those skills early can only help you.

8. Study!

Don’t wing it. So many test takers go into the test thinking they can just apply for common sense and pass.

And while the food handler exam isn’t as academically rigorous as something like the Massachusetts Bar Exam, it is still something you shouldn’t leave to chance. If you have the opportunity to study, use it.

This goes back to your attitude about the test and how you view it. If you see it as important or if it is required for your career, you will take the time to study, your score will be higher, and you reduce the risk of a failing grade and having to retake the test.

Make this a priority so you can start your career.

9. Make Use of Your Materials

You can’t very well study if you never crack open your materials.

Your manager will probably have a copy of the study guide, and if they don’t, the ServSafe website has them available. These materials are designed to help you. USE THEM.

They will help familiarize you with the format of the test, the sorts of information you should know, and the phrasing of the questions. The information in them is invaluable, and yet hundreds of test takers sit their exam without ever having glanced at the study materials.

The materials are there to help you so be sure to make use of them.

10. Relax

Yes, this is a vital first step into any restaurant career. Yes, you need to pass it prior to being allowed to work in the kitchen in many states.

But it also isn’t a grueling exam. You won’t be asked to find the square root of the angle of the centroid of the mechanism. You won’t need to critique The Jungle and its effect on food production in the early 20th century.

You just need to know how to handle food safely. It’s a worthy thing, and a vital one. Again, no one wants E.coli with their burger.

But its key to remember a few key things.

You Have Your Food Handlers Study Guide. Now What?

With this food handlers study guide and a little bit of study time, you should be acing your food handlers certification exam in no time. Life is always going to throw tests your way, whether metaphorical or literal. We may not be able to help with those metaphorical ones, but for more on acing the literal tests in your life, we’re here to help.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.