Washington State food handlers card and insurance requirements

Washington State food handlers card and insurance requirements

Alex Dryjowicz
By Alex Dryjowicz
Feb 8, 2024
8 min read

The Department of Health requires all employees who work with unpackaged food to complete a Washington State food handlers card training course and pass an exam before serving the public. If you’re opening a restaurant, cafe, bakery, or catering business, it’s essential to be in compliance with state and local law.

Knowledge can help you protect your small business investment. Jump ahead to find regulation essentials, such as:

Who needs a Washington State food handlers card?

Any employee who handles unpackaged food, food equipment, utensils or surfaces where people put unwrapped food must get a food handlers card. Washington requires that employers provide food safety training to employees who don’t have a food handler card before starting work. In addition, employees must complete a course and pass an exam to get an official Food Worker Card within 14 days of employment.

The Washington State Department of Health food handlers card certification requirements apply to kitchen staff, servers, bussers, hosts, bartenders and other employees in a food service business.

Exemptions from this mandate include:

  • Employees at places serving only pre-packaged foods.
  • Staff at establishments offering foods that don’t require time or temperature control.
  • Adult caregivers trained in safe food handling as part of their caregiver training.

Additionally, food service workers with disabilities whose work consists of low public health risk activities such as bussing or dishwashing can earn a limited duty card instead.

Besides ensuring compliance with Washington state law, employing certified food handlers can help protect your business. The certification process teaches employees about safe food handling techniques and proper food preparation to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

How to get a food handlers card in Washington State

To get a food handler permit, Washington food service workers must complete a training program. All local health departments offer training, exams, and cards. Keep in mind that the only authorized online training program is the Washington State Food Worker Course developed by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

The program covers various topics in the Washington State Food Worker Manual related to safe food handling, including:

  • Foodborne illness and prevention.
  • Temperature control.
  • Handwashing.
  • Cross-contamination.
  • Food allergies.
  • Cleaning, sanitation and dishwashing.

After completing the course, participants must pass an exam to receive their official Food Worker Card.

Once an employee has successfully completed a course online or in-person with the local health department, workers will receive a physical food handler card. Washington state requires that employers keep a copy of their employees’ food handler cards on file for health inspections.

All food handler cards in Washington are issued and signed by a local health officer and include the name and signature of the food service worker, the card’s expiration date and the name of the health department issuing the card.

Food handlers cards issued through the state online training program or a county health department are accepted statewide. Washington does not recognize any out-of-state food handler cards.

Insurance for Washington restaurants, caterers, cafes and food service businesses

Restaurant owners can help protect their businesses from everyday risks with Washington State business insurance. Consider these insurance options:

General liability insurance

General liability insurance can help protect your business from financial fallout if you’re found liable for property damage or injury to a third party. 

Food service general liability insurance can also include restaurant-specific coverage for risks such as foodborne illness. If customers get sick from food prepared incorrectly or contaminated, this coverage may help cover related fees.

Workers’ compensation insurance

Washginton state requires almost all businesses to have workers’ compensation insurance. It can help cover costs such as lost wages or medical expenses if an employee is injured on the job. 

Commercial property insurance

Commercial property insurance can protect your physical assets (inventory, equipment, furniture, buildings) in case of covered events like fire or burst pipes. It can help pay for repairs or replacements.

Commercial auto insurance

If you or your employees drive for work, commercial auto insurance can help provide necessary coverage for medical expenses, property damage and other financial losses that result from  an accident.

Washington mandates minimum bodily injury liability coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, plus $10,000 for property damage.

How much is a Washington State food handlers card?

In Washington, workers can get their food handler card online via the government-authorized training program or in person at their local health department. The cost for this card is $10, whether you complete the course online or in person.

Some employers might pay for this certification, but it’s not a state requirement. This card belongs to the employee and is valid across Washington.

How long does it take to get a Washington State food handlers permit?

Employees can work up to 14 days before getting their card if the employer provides food safety training. The food handler certification course and exam usually take 1 to 3 hours, including at least 30 minutes of instruction.

After completing the course, passing the exam, and paying the certification fee, participants receive their food handler certification. Washington state issues physical cards to all certified food handlers.

Initial Washington food handler cards are valid for two years from the date they are issued. Food service workers can apply for a new food worker handler certification up to 60 days before their current card expires.

If you renew your card before it expires, food service workers can get a three-year card. Otherwise, the health department will issue a two-year card if yours is already expired.

A five-year card is an option if you have a current certification card and go through advanced training, like the ServeSafe Food Managers Course.

Food handlers vs. Certified food protection managers

Unless the Certified Food Protection Managers (CFPM) acts as a food worker, they don’t have to fulfill the food handler card requirements. The CFPM undergoes a separate certification process and ensures that all managers and employees are trained in food safety and comply with best practices.

While every acting manager at a food service business must have Active Managerial Control (AMC) with policies and procedures to control foodborne illness risk factors, the Washington State Retail Food Code requires most food establishments also to have at least one employee with a CFPM certificate. You will likely need to get this certification yourself if you do not have any employees.

How NEXT helps support Washington State restaurants, cafes, caterers and food service

NEXT has hassle-free, tailored Washington restaurant and food business insurance policies for small businesses and self-employed business owners.

It’s fast and simple. In about 10 minutes, you can get a quote, review your coverage options, choose your policies, and download a certificate of insurance.

Questions? Our team of licensed insurance advisors is ready to help.

Start a free quote with NEXT.

banner get business insurance in 10
Alex Dryjowicz
About the author

Alex Dryjowicz is a copywriter, content creator and regular contributor to NEXT Insurance. She is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and small business owners across all industries succeed.

She also enjoys intercultural communications and all things scuba diving.

What we cover
Chat with Us

Mon – Fri | 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. CT

© 2024 Next Insurance, Inc. 975 California Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94304, United States
Better Business Bureau
Issuance of coverage is subject to underwriting. Not available in all states. Please see the policy for full terms, conditions and exclusions. Coverage examples are for illustrative purposes only. Your policy documents govern, terms and exclusions apply. Coverage is dependent on actual facts and circumstances giving rise to a claim. Next Insurance, Inc. and/or its affiliates is an insurance agency licensed to sell certain insurance products and may receive compensation from insurance companies for such sales. Policy obligations are the sole responsibility of the issuing insurance company. Refer to Legal Notices section for additional information.

Any starting prices or premiums represented before an actual customer quote are not guaranteed and are representations of existing premiums of active policies as of December 6, 2023. To the extent permitted by law, applicants are individually underwritten, not all applicants may qualify. Individual rates and savings vary and are subject to change. Discounts and savings are available where state laws and regulations allow, and may vary by state. Certain discounts apply to specific coverages only.