New food handler regulations take effect March 1

Regulations require food service outlets to have a certified food safety manager on staff, employees who come in contact with food to have handler permit

Leigh Black Irvin,
Drusilla Begay prepares food on Monday in the buffet line at Chef Bernie’s Restaurant in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — New state requirements for food industry workers will go into effect March 1 for all food service outlets outside the city Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. 

The New Mexico Environment Department regulations require each location to have a certified food safety manager on staff. Also, each employee who comes into contact with food must have a food handler permit, according to a press release from the New Mexico Restaurant Association.

"In addition, there is a new 'person in charge' requirement," said Dionne Wright-Bower, a spokeswoman for the association,

She said the food safety manager doesn't have to be an actual manager. He or she can be at a management or supervisor. There must be at least one such certified individual at each location. 

"For the food handler permit requirement, this applies to any employee who handles food," Wright-Bower said. "He or she must be certified at the food handler level."

The person in charge requirement, she said, is not an actual certification. It requires that one person must be present on every shift who can answer detailed questions about proper food handling.

"For instance, you can't have someone who may be a dishwasher but who is not trained in proper food handling left alone in the restaurant to lock up," she said. "If that location gets inspected at that time, that individual will need to be able to answer detailed questions about safe food handling. Otherwise, the location will get a violation."

State-mandated food handling regulations include proper sanitation of dishes and cooking utensils, using safe temperatures to store and cook food and avoiding cross-contamination, according to the NMED website. A spokeswoman for the department did not respond to requests for comment today. 

Bernie Sandoval, owner and manager of Chef Bernie's Restaurant, and Drusilla Begay prepare food in the buffet line at Chef Bernie’s Restaurant on Monday.

Next month, the New Mexico Restaurant Association will offer classes in Farmington through a National Restaurant Association program called ServSafe to prepare food handlers to meet the new requirements.

An eight-hour certified food safety manager course will be Feb. 20, and a three-hour food handler class will be Feb. 21. The food handler class is also available online and is offered in Spanish and English, Wright-Bower said.

"The manager's class is all day and is more intensive," she said. "Once people get the training, they're more likely to pass an inspection, and it allows workers to obtain centralized, comprehensive training and knowledge."

Wright-Bower said although her agency is a restaurant association, many institutions that serve food, such as schools and hospitals, have put their employees through ServSafe training.  

One local restaurant that regularly sends its employees to ServSafe training is Chef Bernie's Restaurant, which is a member of the New Mexico Restaurant Association.

"The food handling training wasn't required until now, but I think it's a really good thing," said Bernie Sandoval, the restaurant's owner and manager. "Now the employees are more thorough, and they're more familiar with regulations like proper temperature and food handling. We have better qualified people and that's good."

Sandoval said he expects the new regulations will cut down on the spread of food-borne illness.

"Now we'll have better qualified people handling food," he said. "Even the dishwashers have to be certified and have to have their (permit) cards. It will be much better for the industry. "

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621. 

If you go

What: Food handling certification for managers class

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 20

Where: San Juan Medical Foundation's Umbach Building, 730 S. Lake St., Farmington

Cost: $125 for New Mexico Restaurant Association members, $175 for non-members


What: Food handler permit class

When: 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Feb. 21

Where: San Juan Medical Foundation Umbach Building, 730 S. Lake St., Farmington, NM

Cost: $27 NMRA members, $37 for non-members. Online class is $15. NMRA members can contact the association for a 30 percent discount.

More info: Pre-registration is required. Call 505-343-9848 or visit

Correction: This story was updated on Feb. 1 to reflect that there needs to be one ceftified food safety manager at each location, not on each shift.