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Topics in Food Safety

Power Outages in Food Establishments

Winter is here and storms may interrupt your power from time to time. Please be prepared. See this link for more information about how to protect food during a power outage.


Fish Advisory

HEALTH ALERT: Fish Advisory for Lake Whatcom

Whatcom County Health Department and Washington State Department of Helath advise that women of childbearing agae and children under age six should:

  • Not eat smallmouth bass caught in Lake Whatcom.

Women of childbearing age and children under age six should also limit the amount of Lake Whatcom yellow perch they eat. Recommended weekly limits for yellow perch are based on body weight:

  • A woman who weighs less than 135 pounds should eat less than six ounces per week.
  • Children under age six should eat less than four ounces per week. Weekly limits for children under age six range from about one ounce for a child who weighs 25 pounds to three ounces for a child weighing 70 pounds.

For additional information on this subject, please visit the Washington State Departmentof Health website here

Food Safety Program

About the Food Safety Program

The Food Safety Program is responsible for permitting and inspecting retail food establishments in Whatcom County such as restaurants, caterers, grocery stores, school cafeterias and mobile food vendors. The Food Safety Program also permits and inspects farmer's markets, temporary food events and soup kitchens.

Food safety is important to each member of our community. The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans get sick each year from food borne illnesses.

Whatcom County permits about 1300 permanent food establishments. Managers and food workers are trained to handle food safety and must pass the Washington State food worker training test. All food establishments must comply with the Washington State Retail Food Code.

In addition to routine inspections, the food safety program staff help to prevent food-borne illness in Whatcom County by:

  • Consulting with individuals who want to start a food business.
  • Investigating food-borne illness reports.
  • Investigating complaints about unsanitary conditions.
  • Teaching food workers, students and community members about safe food handling.
  • Notifying food establishment operators about recalls affecting Washington State.
  • Monitoring recreational shellfish harvesting and notifying the public if biotoxins rise to unsafe levels.

Click on the following for more information about the Food Safety Program

Food Worker Training - Food Worker Manual


Temporary Food Establishments

Permitting Food Establishments

Food borne Illness

Silver Platter Awards


Frequently Asked Questions:

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

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 food workers 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 anyone who handles unwrapped food products.

Do I need a permit to operate a restaurant, grocery store, tavern or similar facility?
Yes, you do need a permit. You will need to apply for a permit, submit a floor plan and menu information, and pay an annual 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.

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.

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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