Page 1 - ServSafe Manager Study Guide for the ServSafe

General Information

If your foodservice job requires you to work in a management position, this is the test required for ServSafe Manager certification. It not only certifies that you have basic knowledge of food safety, but that you are able to prevent foodborne illness. So, not only will you need to study this Manager material, but you’ll need to be sure you have all the knowledge and skills required for the Food Handler test. The Manager material builds on that, and reviewing this material assumes you know everything studied under Food Handler. It would, therefore, be a great idea to review our study guides and practice questions for the ServSafe Food Handler Test. To help you know when this is especially important, we’ll use this alert under certain topics: See Food Handler study guide.

You will see 90 questions on this test and have a limit of two hours to complete them. The concepts you’ll need to know are more advanced than those on the food handler test and the following study guide will be helpful in planning your studies. Be sure to also access our practice questions for the ServSafe Manager Test and our Flashcards for topics related to it.

One other note: The amount of material covered on this test is massive. We have provided you with an outline of the main topics covered and a few details below, but we highly encourage you to secure access to the official ServSafe materials and/or courses as you prepare for the test. You can find out more at the ServSafe website.

The Provision of Safe Food

Understanding how to handle, prepare, and cook food safely keeps harmful pathogens from growing to unsafe levels and is every food service manager’s primary job.

The Certified Food Protection Manager

When foods are handled, prepared, or cooked incorrectly, harmful pathogens could grow into a foodborne illness outbreak. A certified manager understands how to prevent this at every level of the operation, from receiving foods and storing them properly, to handling foods safely and cooking them correctly. Certified managers train and work alongside food handlers to ensure customers and the facility are always safe.

Foodborne Illnesses

Understanding foodborne illnesses and the detrimental effect they have on a business is of the utmost importance. It’s the manager’s job to ensure the food service establishment, its employees, and those being served are always safe from foodborne illness. Severe foodborne illness could result in an outbreak which could cause a damaged reputation and financial loss.

Foodborne Illness vs. an Outbreak

Foodborne illness happens when someone gets sick from pathogens in food. It’s considered an outbreak once two or more people experience sickness from the same food, it’s been investigated by local authorities, and it’s been confirmed by scientific testing. Strict focus on foodborne illness has resulted in fewer outbreaks, but the issue is still widespread enough to require a thorough understanding of prevention.

Safe Food Challenges

Many factors can contribute to unsafe food:

  • Time—not having enough to practice proper food safety in a fast-paced business

  • Language/Culture—barriers in understanding between some staff members

  • Literacy/Education—varying levels of comprehension with some staff members

  • Pathogens—now being found and associated with new foods

  • Unapproved suppliers—ordering from unsafe sources that don’t understand food safety

  • High-risk customers—serving customers with a higher chance of illness (the elderly)

  • Staff turnover—not spending enough time training new employees


The Foodborne Illness Process

All it takes is one bad foodborne illness outbreak to ruin a business by causing a drop in customers, a ruined reputation, negative reviews, and embarrassed staff, which may result in them skipping work. It could result in lawsuits and legal costs, expensive insurance costs, and could require additional staff training, which is also expensive. Worst of all, it could cause those infected by the illness to experience disability, medical bills, time away from their own job, or even death.

Types of Contaminants

Foodborne illness is caused by foods being contaminated by either biological (pathogens), chemical, or physical (objects) contaminants. Biological contaminants are the most likely cause.

Food Handling Risk Factors

The top five risk factors in food handling are:

  • Ordering food from an unsafe purveyor

  • Not cooking food properly

  • Not holding food properly

  • Letting food come into contact with contaminated items or staff

  • Not engaging in proper hygiene

These are the five most likely causes of foodborne illness.

Foodborne Illness Symptoms

If someone is experiencing nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, a fever, or a yellowing of the skin known as jaundice, they may have a foodborne illness.

Unsafe Food Handling Practices

Time-temperature abuse, cross-contamination, neglected personal hygiene, and neglected cleaning and sanitizing create unsafe environments for food. Keep foods out of the temperature danger zone, avoid passing pathogens from one thing to another, maintain proper hygiene, and follow cleaning and sanitizing guidelines to prevent unsafe environments in your facility.

Risky Foods

While any food can become unsafe or contaminated, there are two types of foods that are the most likely to become unsafe. They are known as TCS foods and ready-to-eat (RTE) foods.

TCS Food

TCS foods need Time and Temperature Control for Safety and pathogens grow best in these foods. TCS foods include: raw proteins including eggs, baked potatoes, sliced produce, cooked starches, bean sprouts, and untreated garlic and oil mixtures.

Ready-to-Eat Food

Ready-to-eat (RTE) foods need no further cooking or preparation, so any pathogen passed to a RTE food remains there. RTE foods include: washed produce, cooked food, deli meat, a sandwich, or a baked item. Spices, seasonings, and sugars are also considered RTE.

Vulnerable Populations

Elderly customers, young children with developing immune systems, and customers with delicate immune systems (such as cancer patients on chemo) are at higher risk for contracting foodborne illness.

Preventing Foodborne Illnesses

Understanding how foods become unsafe leads to keeping them safe in your establishment. The importance of ordering your food from trusted sources, following time and temperature guidelines, avoiding cross-contamination, being hygienic, and cleaning and sanitizing properly are key, and should be highlighted as areas your staff are expected to understand and master.

Staff Supervision

Beyond understanding safety procedures, the manager must ensure each staff member also recognizes and practices them. This includes training everyone on general food safety, as well as giving job-specific training to others (such as cooking certain foods to specific temperatures.) Staff should be monitored and retrained when needed and corrective action should be taken when a procedure isn’t followed.

Regulatory Agencies

Government agencies at the county, state, and federal levels create regulations and keep food safe. Local authorities at the county and state level inspect foodservice establishments.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspects all food except meat, poultry, and eggs. They regulate the transportation of food across state lines. The FDA created the Food Code, which includes science-based recommendations on food safety in restaurants, retail food stores, vending machines, schools and other care facilities, hospitals, and aged care homes. The FDA now requires managers to be certified in food safety; however, it cannot require cities, counties, states, or tribal agencies to adopt its own FDA Food Code.

Other Agencies

There are additional regulatory agencies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) keeps meat, poultry, and eggs safe, including when those items cross state lines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that requiring this very certification in food safety lowers the chance of foodborne illness outbreaks. They also research outbreaks.

There are also county and state authorities. Public Health Services (PHS) set and enforce regulations, write codes, investigate illness complaints, issue permits and licenses, approve construction, review and approve food safety plans, and inspect foodservice establishments.

Additional Terms and Concepts to Study:

  • Causes of Unsafe Food

  • Cross-Contamination

  • Temperature Danger Zone

  • How People Can Help Keep Food Safe

  • Personal Hygiene

  • Illness

  • Time and Temperature

  • At-Risk Populations

  • TCS Foods

  • RTE Foods


All Study Guides for the ServSafe are now available as downloadable PDFs