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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Who inspects restaurants, taverns, and grocery stores and how often are they inspected?
Staff from the Environmental Health Section of the Health Department inspect all retail food establishments.  State law requires the Health Department to inspect each food establishment at least 1 time each year.

Who inspects processing plants and places that sell foods wholesale?
The Washington State Department of Agriculture, The United States Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration inspect facilities that sell foods at the wholesale level.

If I have a complaint about a food establishment who can I call?
If the complaint involves a retail food establishment or a food you purchased for your own use, contact our office.  If you purchased the food for resale, you can contact our office and we can help determine which other agency you need to contact.

What should I do if I think a meal I ate made me sick?
If the severity of your illness concerns you, contact your health care provider. They can help you with any necessary treatment. In addition, please contact our office to report the illness. Depending on what we learn from talking to you, we may help prevent other people from becoming ill. To learn more about food-related illnesses, click here.

What is the best thing I can do to prevent food-borne illness at home?
1. Do not prepare food for others when you are sick.
2. Wash your hands thoroughly before you begin to prepare foods or eat foods. Wet hands. Use plenty of soap. Lather for at least 20 seconds (Sing “Happy Birthday” twice). Rinse hands. Dry hands.
3. Avoid bare hand contact on ready-to-eat (RTE) foods.
4. Keep food at a safe temperature.

Should I prepare food for others when I am ill?
Ill foodworkers frequently make others sick by preparing food. If at all possible, avoid preparing food for other people when you do not feel well.

Who needs to get a food worker card?
Any person who works in a grocery store, restaurant, school cafeteria, camp kitchen, deli, tavern or other retail food establishment and handles unwrapped food products. For more information, click here.

Do I need a permit to operate a restaurant, grocery store, tavern or similar facility?
Yes, you do need a permit. For more information, visit the Business Owners web page. You will need to apply for a permit, submit a floor plan and menu information, and pay a yearly permit fee. After receiving a permit, Health Department Staff will inspect the facility to ensure safe food handling practices.

I just bought a food establishment business, what permits do I need from the Health Department?
You will need to complete a Change of Ownership Packet and obtain a food establishment permit through our office. You may return completed paperwork to our office and pay the associated fees. Contact our office to determine the cost. Next, you may schedule an inspection with a Health Department inspector. Inspectors need a few days notice, in order to schedule the appointment. To learn more about this process, visit our Business Owners web page.

I am planning to open a restaurant or other food establishment in Whatcom County, what should I do first?
You will need to provide detailed construction plans, and information on your proposed menu and method of food preparation. This information is included in the Plan Review Packet. To learn more about this process, visit the Business Owners web page.

What permits do I need to sell food at a fair, festival, or community event?
You need to purchase a Temporary Food Establishment Permit from our office. Please contact our office at least 2 weeks before your event, so we can process the application and issue a permit before purchasing or preparing food. For more information, please visit our Temporary Events web page.


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