CHICAGO – Health inspectors in Illinois on Jan. 1 will begin issuing fines to restaurants that violate the state's food-handler certification law.

The law requires all foodservice employees who prepare, store or serve food, handle food equipment, food utensils or food-contact surfaces to receive basic food-safety training through accredited programs. The law took effect in July, but no fines were issued for non-compliance.

Training and tests can be done online or in person, and certification must be renewed every three years. Employers must maintain physical or electronic proof of their employees' food-handler training. The cost of training is limited to $15; employers are not required to reimburse workers for the time and expense of the certification process.

The National Restaurant Association noted that violations will be treated differently depending on where in Illinois the violation occurs. NRA said restaurant inspections aren't standardized. However, in Chicago, the first violation will be considered a “minor” offense, said Mary Wilkie, director of education for the Illinois Restaurant Association. The establishment will receive a warning and instructions for employees to complete the required training. A second violation will be classified as “serious” and a $250 fine will be imposed. It will continue to be considered a “serious” offense if the restaurant remains out of compliance.