Food Inspection FAQs

Why are food establishments inspected?
We inspect and permit food establishments. We educate food workers to promote safe food handling and reduce the risk of getting sick from the food you eat. We use inspection reports as checklists to make sure businesses are using safe food-handling practices. 

Which food establishments are inspected by the Whatcom County Health Department?
We inspect retail food establishments. Examples include: restaurants, schools, food trucks, coffee shops, delis, convenience stores, grocery stores, and other sites where food is sold or served to the public.  We do not inspect retail food establishments on tribal lands, such as restaurants in casinos. For more details, see "Who Inspects What?"

How often are food establishments inspected?
We inspect each establishment based on the type of food preparation that takes place:
  • Complex menu such as full service restaurant or full service caterer: 2 inspections per year
  • Moderate menu such as fast food, sandwich shop, meat/seafood market: 1 inspection per year
  • Simple menu such as convenience store, coffee shop: 1 inspection every 2 years
How do I know the difference between an excellent inspection and a poor inspection? 
Inspectors note food safety errors as violations during inspections.  Generally, fewer violations indicate a better inspection.

Each code violation indicates a risk of illness.  High risk (red) violations are most likely to cause illness, based on past Washington State foodborne illness outbreaks.  Inspections with zero red violations and two or fewer low risk (blue) violations are considered excellent.

Which violations are the most serious?
The inspection report includes high risk (red) and low risk (blue) violations.  More information about the difference between red and blue violations can be found here

How can I report a complaint about a food establishment?
  • By telephone – call 360-778-6000 8:30 am – 4:30 pm Monday through Friday
  • By e-mail -
  • In person at 509 Girard Street in Bellingham
  • By mail - Whatcom County Health Department, 509 Girard St, Bellingham, WA  98225
Can I see original inspection reports online?
Only summaries of inspections are available online. The summary lists the violations cited and the action required after an inspection. The inspector’s observations and some other details are not included in the summary.

Original inspection reports are public records and may be obtained by completing a Public Records Request form.  Learn more about requesting public records at:

Can I see inspection results for a food establishment if the owner has changed?
Online inspection records are only provided for the current establishment owner and business.  Records for previous owners may be obtained by submitting a public records request.  We only keep records for the previous 7 years

How often will this website be updated?
We update this site every business day.

What else should I remember?
A report is a snapshot of food handling practices at the establishment at the time of inspection. Conditions could be different when you visit. 

Inspections assess safe food handling practices.  They do not address items such as customer service, food taste, or popularity.