Providing California Workers with Free Access to Food Safety Information: A Public Health Imperative

July 2023

This report describes how the inappropriate use of a public health imperative to require workers to pay for food safety training directly contravenes basic and widely accepted public health principles of providing critical community health information free to the most vulnerable members of a community.

The restaurant industry has been one of the largest and fastest-growing employers in both California and nationwide for decades. Unfortunately, it has also been one of the lowest-paying employers for generations, dating back to the racist history of the National Restaurant Association lobbying (NRA) after Emancipation to hire newly freed Black workers for a zero dollar wage, forcing them to live off tips.

These lobbying efforts to suppress wages have continued over the last 100 years, and recent evidence reveals that they have particularly ballooned over the last few decades due to the use of the National Restaurant Association’s scheme to force low-wage workers to pay for food safety training through its monopoly company ServSafe, the revenue from which funds their lobbying efforts without these workers’ knowledge.

At face value, a food safety training program for food service workers appears to be of critical importance to preserve the public’s health. However, as this report outlines, in California, this public health imperative has been used inappropriately to require workers to fund a trade lobby’s efforts to suppress wages. The California legislature is currently considering SB-476, which would shift the burden of paying for mandatory food safety training from the state’s lowest-wage workers to restaurant employers, and requires the state to publicly list multiple training providers beyond the National Restaurant Association’s monopoly training provider.

This report, produced in conjunction with our partners One Fair Wage, Dr. Steve Markowitz, from Barry Commoner Center for Health & the Environment, Queens College, and the UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center, provides public health evidence to support the importance of:

  •  Ensuring restaurant workers have access to free, comprehensive information, education or training in appropriate languages;
  • Ensuring that information and training are delivered by credible organizations free of conflict of interest or the perception thereof; and,
  • Ensuring that effective communication methods are used and presented at times, places, and/or by means that accommodate food handlers’ needs and constraints.

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To learn more, contact Sari Bilick at