Looking to barista? Consider getting certified in food safety

Understanding proper safe food-handling techniques and highlighting those skills on your resume will inform potential employers that you possess the skills necessary to succeed in these positions.

For aspiring baristas or counter attendants , getting a Food Safety Manager certification can give you the competitive edge you need when looking for employment in a crowded market.

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A Food Safety Manager certification (available from organizations like ServSafe, an educational branch of the National Restaurant Association) is one of the best ways to communicate that you possess basic cleanliness, sanitation, and food handling skills, even if you don't have much prior experience. ServSafe's Food Safety Manager course teaches topics like "The Importance of Food Safety," "Good Personal Hygiene," "Preventing Cross-Contamination," and "Cleaning and Sanitizing."

According to the National Restaurant Association, there's no consensus on a national level about personal food safety certifications—it's all determined by a state or county level, so ServSafe recommends that someone seeking certification should double check their state's standards before getting certified. Once confirmed, however, you can find instructors, sign up for an online class, and purchase course materials on the ServSafe website. After taking the class, ServSafe will help you find a proctor to give a final exam in person; if you pass, you'll be certified!

From a restaurant's perspective, hiring an employee that already has food safety qualifications saves them valuable time and resources; the money saved in training might even be used to offer you a higher starting salary. Accepting a candidate who already has a certification in food safety is also less of a liability for the company's management.

Although baristas and counter attendants won't necessarily be in charge of food preparation or cooking as often as, say, chefs or line cooks, they'll still be handling food and drinks on a regular basis, and being aware of proper hygienic practices when interacting with food is imperative to customer safety. A variety of potentially unsanitary objects passes through the hands of counter attendants and baristas all the time (paper money, credit cards, cups that other people have touched), which can lead to the spread of germs. Because baristas and counter attendants come in contact with so many different people and things, knowing basic sanitation and cleanliness standards and practices thoroughly is just as important as it is in a restaurant setting.

For baristas specifically, understanding and managing possible cross-contamination situations is vital to ensuring the smooth running of a coffee shop. For example, some customers may have dairy or lactose allergies, so taking care in preparing drinks—allocating utensils and containers for dairy and non-dairy substances and thoroughly washing preparation materials in between every drink made—protects customers from having adverse reactions to their orders. Listening to and knowing how to handle customer specifications goes beyond customer service—it's a matter of health and safety as well.

On top of preparing drinks and serving pastries, baristas and counter attendants are also in charge of maintaining the cleanliness of the equipment and facilities. Machines need to be sanitized regularly, and it's often the responsibility of baristas to clean both behind the counter and in customer seating areas. Even the tiniest scraps of food can attract pests, which can spell disaster for a restaurant—assure your future manager that you understand what's at stake when it comes to sanitation by becoming certified in Food Safety Management.

Baristas and counter attendants have more responsibilities than many assume: from ensuring proper personal hygiene when handling food to understanding cross-contamination issues to following protocol on how often to clean machines if you possess proper sanitation, cleanliness, and food handling skills, you'll likely be a lot better at your job. Including a Food Safety Manager certification on your resume demonstrates to prospective employers that you've taken the initiative to acquire these skills even before landing a job.