Restaurants and other food establishments that serve food to the public have a role to play in keeping people healthy and safe from foodborne illnesses. We work with food establishments to make sure their facilities are safe for preparing and selling food.
To start a new food business or remodel one, you'll need to submit a food establishment plan review application.
Food business approval is a three-step process:
Be sure to also contact local building and planning departments about their separate review and permit processes.
To operate a new food truck or other mobile food unit, you will first need to submit a mobile unit plan review application packet.
Most mobile food businesses must use a commissary to store, prepare, or package food for the mobile unit.
Follow these steps to get approval for your mobile food business:
If you are a new owner of an existing food business, you'll need to complete a change of ownership packet. An operating permit for a food establishment is not transferred from one owner to the next.
It takes about 2 weeks to review your application after you submit it. It may take longer if you are making changes to the menu, equipment, or building.
Most farmers market food vendors must have a permit to operate. Application materials are not available on our website. Call us at 360-778-6000, email us, or visit us at 509 Girard Street, Bellingham to speak with an inspector about permits for selling food at farmers markets.
Fairs, festivals, special events, and non-profit fundraisers that serve food are called temporary food establishments. If the event is open to the public or if guests are charged for food, you must apply for a temporary food establishment permit.
Get an application packet (PDF) for a free community meal or food donation program.
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, Whatcom County Health and Community Services staff will inspect the facility to ensure safe food handling practices.
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 Whatcom County Health and Community Services Inspector.
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.
A temporary food establishment is a food establishment that operates at a fixed location, with a fixed menu, for no more than 21 consecutive days in conjunction with a single event or celebration, such as a fair or festival.
Individuals or groups planning to hold events that are open to the public must obtain a permit. Whatcom County Health and Community Services requires that each food booth or vendor operating during an event obtains a temporary permit.
You need to purchase a Temporary Food Establishment Permit from our office. Please contact our office at least two (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 Food Permits webpage.
A public event is any organized event advertised in any way to the public such as flyers, newspaper articles or ads, radio, or social media. A public event is open to the public and offers food during the event. The requirements do not change if the food sold is for profit or provided at no charge.
At this time we accept cash, debit or credit cards. There is a convenience fee on debit and credit card transactions. Payment must accompany the application. Do not email the completed application to our office.
Once we review and approve your permit, we will email you a PDF unless you request otherwise. You will need to print a copy of the permit to post at the event.
Yes, you still need a permit. Permit fee waivers are possible for meals served to people in need. Contact our office at 360-778-6000 for more information.
To get a food worker card, you must take the online food worker course. You can obtain a food worker card online for $10. You may also purchase (cash, debit or credit card) and pick up the food worker card at our office during business hours.
You need to complete the coordinator’s checklist. Submit this paperwork at least one month before your event. You may add food vendors after you submit the application; contact our office with the information you need to add to your application.
You need to complete the coordinator’s checklist. We ask that you submit this paperwork at least one month before your event. You may add food vendors once the application is submitted; just contact our office with the information.
Caterers are not exempt from temporary food establishment permits even though they may currently have a permit. Caterers who choose to operate at a temporary event must apply for a temporary food establishment permit.
In addition to a hand washing sink, you need to have enough functioning equipment to keep potentially hazardous food at the proper temperature. The outdoor booths must have an overhead cover over storage areas, food preparation, cooking and serving areas. You need walls when it is necessary to protect food and food equipment from the elements.
If you use ice chests ensure you have enough ice to completely submerge food so that it can hold food at 41°F or less. Keep ice chests and refrigerators out of direct sunlight. Equipment must hold food at 135°F or hotter. Sterno chafers are not allowed at events unless the event is indoors and less than four hours. You must have a thermometer to ensure foods are holding properly and are cooked to the proper temperatures.
For more information on setting up and operating temporary food establishments, please see the Checklist for Temporary Food Establishment Operation.
Out of county vendors need a temporary food establishment permit. The type of permit depends on menu and duration of event. In addition, complex food preparation may need to occur in a Whatcom County commissary kitchen. Visit our Food Permits webpage for more information.
Permitted mobile units may operate anytime, anywhere in Whatcom County including events (with the coordinators permission). As long as you bring the mobile unit to the event and are offering the same menu items as listed in your approved plan of operation, you need no additional permits from our office. Mobile units must have a local commissary kitchen to service the mobile unit.
If you have a mobile unit, but want to operate out of a booth for an event, you must apply for and obtain a temporary food establishment permit, even if the menu is the same. If you are interested in operating a mobile unit please read the Mobile Food Plan Review Packet for more information.
If you plan to operate at the NWWF, you will need a NW Washington Fair Permit. These permits are valid for the length of the fair only. If you have a current temporary food establishment permit (multiple event or a multiple location farmers market permit) you may operate at the NWWF without additional permitting if you offer the same menu items.
You must purchase pre-washed produce or you must wash your produce at a commercial kitchen or permitted food establishment. You cannot wash produce at the event site unless the venue has a dedicated produce preparation sink. You cannot wash produce in a residential kitchen.
For one day events, bring enough extra utensils for the following: to change out utensils every four hours, to replace dropped utensils and to replace other contaminated utensils. You must change utensils that come in contact with potentially hazardous foods every four hours if utensil cleaning facilities are not available on site.
If your event is more than one day and you are applying for a temporary food establishment permit, you need to have a plumbed three compartment sink or commercial dishwasher to wash and sanitize utensils. If the event venue does not have a plumbed three compartment sink or commercial dishwasher, you must have a commissary agreement with a local commercial kitchen. If you have a food establishment permit in Whatcom County, you may use your dishwashing facilities for utensil cleaning.
Some menu items, like smoothies made with dairy, soy or protein products, require frequent cleaning and vendors will need access to a plumbed three compartment sink at the event site. Whatcom County does not allow the three tub method for utensil washing and sanitizing at temporary events.
You may not make food at home for sale to the public unless it is for a bake sale. You may not prepare any foods on site that require multiple steps or extensive assembly. You must make any advanced menu preparation in a commercial kitchen with equipment to support your menu.
No, hot food must be made the day of the event, held hot and served. Discard any leftover hot food; do not save and re-serve it to the public.
Operators of petting zoos, county fairs, pony rides, or any similar settings that encourage contact with animals must post a warning sign for visitors about the potential risk of disease. They are to provide easy access to hand washing stations, or as an alternative, an approved method using hand sanitizers. Operators must also post signs at each exit of an animal exhibit reminding visitors to wash their hands.
The local municipality may require a permit for gathering in a public area or to vend food on a public right of way. Contact the city or county in which you are operating for more information.
If you have additional questions, please call our office to leave a message or schedule an appointment.