Important skills for prospective cooks

Sanitation and cleanliness are vital food safety skills for cooks

It's important to include sanitation and cleanliness skills on your resume, especially if you're applying for cook positions. Yet many applicants don't. Indicating that you have the requisite sanitation and cleanliness skills is vital to inform a potential employer that you understand the basics of cooking, and highlighting food safety qualifications on your resume can make you an even more appealing applicant in a variety of cooking environments.

You can acquire a food safety and handling qualification from an organization like ServSafe, an educational branch of the National Restaurant Association. According to the National Restaurant Association, there's no national consensus when it comes to food safety certifications — they're determined on the state or county level. However, no matter where in the country you're looking to work, procuring a food safety certification from ServSafe (or a comparable program) will open up even more opportunities.

Important skills for prospective cooks

From a restaurant manager's perspective, hiring a cook that already has relevant and up-to-date food safety qualifications saves them time and money — they may even give you a higher starting salary. Accepting candidates who already have cleanliness and sanitation qualifications also poses less of a liability to the company's management.

Because cleanliness is regulated so strictly in the food service industry, even one small infraction can have serious consequences. For fast food chains, unsafe or unsanitary practices can tarnish their national brand, affecting consumers' choices on a national level. For smaller local restaurants, food safety violations can even shut down their business. As an applicant, including food safety and handling qualifications on your resume not only shows off your skills, but also demonstrates that you know how important cleanliness and sanitation are to the food service industry — you'll communicate to prospective employers that your number one priority is keeping their customers safe and happy.

While including food safety certifications on your resume is critical no matter what cook positions you apply for, taking into account the type of job or restaurant you're applying for can help narrow down the skills you should list on your resume. For instance, the food safety practices a cafeteria cook uses are very different from a chef in a restaurant.

This disparity largely comes down to the scale of operations. Cafeterias can serve up to hundreds of people, and large quantities of food are prepared or reheated in order feed the high volume of people. If cafeteria food isn't made on site, many of the food handling and sanitation practices are about ensuring that large quantities of food remain at a stable serving temperature, maintaining the cleanliness of the serving spaces and food preparation equipment, handling food properly when serving customers, and making sure that customers serve themselves using proper food handling practices. The operational scale of cafeterias highlights the need for extremely diligent food safety and sanitation — one food handling error (such as using the same gloves to handle raw meat and vegetables) can adversely affect the health of hundreds of customers in a worst-case scenario.

By contrast, a chef in a restaurant thinks of food safety in terms of individual servings. For example, when preparing single serving meat dishes, a restaurant cook must know the specific temperatures needed to safely serve a cooked piece of meat, as well as how these temperatures vary for different cuts and types of meat. Since most restaurants do not buy vegetables in bulk, specific methods of washing smaller amounts of produce must be followed. Furthermore, some cooks in smaller restaurants may even be in charge of buying fresh produce and meat, so they must have the proper training to recognize and purchase uncontaminated groceries. One way to achieve that training is to sign up for CareerBuilder's Assistant Restaurant Manager course, which will teach you everything you need to know about running a restaurant — except how to cook!

Of course, many food safety practices are similar no matter the operational scale of the business. Whatever cook roles you're applying to, obtaining food safety and sanitation certifications — and highlighting these skills prominently on your resume — will bolster your chances of getting hired.