The Perspective

From Classroom to Computer:
Fifty Years of Food Safety Training

There was a time when food handlers didn’t have to get a health card, food safety training didn’t exist, and the rules and regulations were only followed some of the time. As health officials we faced serious challenges such as battling dysentery and other diseases spread by food handlers. Call it a sanitarian’s nightmare.

Fortunately resort owners and restaurant managers had the foresight to see the benefit of adding training to their business models. In a vintage 'Las Vegas Sun' story, the first chief health officer, Dr. Otto Ravenholt, said, "hotel operators don’t just want their employees to take the health district board’s chest X-ray test and the written examination in knowledge of food handling hygiene"; they wanted the information to be relevant.

Clark County Ordinance 186 was adopted in 1963 to help curb the spread of disease by requiring all food handlers to attend a food safety course and receive a TB skin test to get a health card. The two-hour training was dubbed ‘the medicine show,’ and travelled from hotel to hotel providing food safety training to about 10,000 of the Strip’s estimated 36,000 food handlers.

Later that year, the medicine show debuted as the ‘Basic Principles of Food Handling.’ The course included a 16mm color film, lectures and demonstrations about food safety practices. These first trainings included a film called 'Outbreak of Salmonella' Infection, which illustrated how one food handler can cause a food borne outbreak.

In 1975, we introduced a new 13-minute movie 'The Enemy Around Us' in English and Spanish, which was produced with a grant from the Culinary Union. This film would serve the district well over the next four decades.

No more movie. No more temporary health cards. One trip to the health district. Done.

Through the years, we have looked for ways to make food safety training more accessible and convenient for applicants. In 2011, our staff began researching ways to bring food safety training into the 21st century. After years of showing the food safety movie, we launched the new online food safety training this summer.

Working with Vegas PBS’ Virtual Online Education, we developed the online training to meet the needs of our health card clients and the businesses we regulate. The result is a program that is accessible for a range of health card applicants, including those who are limited English speakers and those who don’t have access to a computer or the Internet at home.

The new program offers the most up-to-date food safety information and is designed to ensure that clients who go through it are able to implement the safe food handling techniques required by health district regulations.

“The goal of the food handler card is to make the program accessible and the content relevant because just watching the movie might not translate into understanding or using appropriate food handling techniques,” said Glenn Savage, director of Environmental Health. “The new program also allows us to incorporate the new food inspection regulations into the training, which applicants can access at their convenience.”

Today, educating food handlers about how to safely prepare, store and serve food is still the prime objective, as it was in 1963. While we rarely receive reports of dysentery these days, we do continue to receive calls about other illnesses stemming from food establishments. But most food borne illness occurs at home and not in the restaurant where you ate your most recent meal. Perhaps you can take some comfort in that.


The Southern Nevada Health District’s Environmental Health Division works with the Health Cards program to protect the community’s health and safety by ensuring food handlers are properly trained in food safety. To access the online training module, go to and create a login to register. To learn more about the training and other changes to the health card program, go to

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