With the advent of the food handler laws in California, Illinois, Arizona, and around the country, there is growing confusion among a variety of terms like certification, certificate and accredited. We expect the proliferation of laws like that in California to grow (though we hope others are better written and not designed to grab money from the pockets of those who can least afford it in the name of food safety).

So let's take a quick look at these terms as they relate to our business (and ultimately yours) should you come across them again:

Accreditation

This is a process that validates the systems and processes a certification organization (like National Registry) or a training organization undertakes to ensure a consistent adherence to a published set of standards. For example, National Registry's food safety manager certification program is accredited because it adheres to the standards set by the Conference for Food Protection. In other cases an organization may have a training program accredited under a new standard created by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

You'll note in both these cases it is the PROGRAM that is accredited and not the organization. An organization with multiple programs must have each program individually accredited under the appropriate standard.

Certification

Certification (in the case of people) asserts that someone is at least minimally competent in a particular field or discipline based on successfully passing an examination. There are many programs that claim an individual is "certified" which, sadly, can dupe the public. But when proper rigor is applied to the development and management of a certification program (often identified internationally under an ISO Standard: 17024), it is considered to be reliable, valid and legally defensible. It adds a layer of protection to the certification organization and the person who is certified. Training and eligibility requirements may or may not be required depending on the complexity of the program. You'd certainly want a board certified physician to have competed medical school first!

The National Registry food safety manager certification program is accredited under the CFP standards and also has the option of applying for additional accreditation under the ISO 17024 standard.

Certificate

This one is a bit simpler. A certificate is issued to an individual who has completed a training program. Many of us have files full of certificates of completion (even if we slept through class). A new standard created by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM 2659) is the new standard being adopted in California. In this case a training organization submits the development and maintenance processes for it's training program for review (in this case by the American National Standards Institute) to ensure that the development and maintenance of the training ensures the individual taking the program that it is based on sound learning and assessment principles. But, again, the end result of finishing the program and passing a rudimentary exam is the issuance of a certificate of completion. It does NOT declare any minimal competence in a profession.

No doubt confusion will continue to reign not just in the field of food safety but anywhere these terms are used. Perhaps this is your chance to help educate others in the important work you do.

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