Washington food handler card and insurance requirements

Washington food handler card and insurance requirements

Alex Dryjowicz
By Alex Dryjowicz
Jan 19, 2023
8 min read

Thinking about opening a restaurant in Washington state? Any workers you hire will likely need a food handler permit.

The Washington State Department of Health requires that all employees who work with unpackaged food complete a training course with their local health department before being allowed to handle food or serve the public.1

Learn more about Washington state food handler certification in this guide, including:

Who needs a food handler license in Washington?

Any employee who handles unpackaged food, food equipment, utensils or surfaces where people put unwrapped food must get a food handler card. Washington state requires that food handlers get food safety training from their employer before starting work. In addition, they must complete a course with their local health department for an official food worker card within 14 days of employment.1

The food handler certification requirements apply to kitchen staff, servers, bussers, hosts, bartenders and other employees in a Washington food service business.

Certified food protection managers don’t have to fulfill the food handler card requirements. The food protection manager 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 of foodborne illness risk factors, most food establishments also need at least one employee with a Certified Food Protection Manager certificate. You will likely need to get this certification if you do not have any employees.2

There are a few other individuals exempt from Washington state’s food handler requirements, such as:3

  • Workers in establishments that only serve commercially pre-packaged foods
  • Adult caregivers who receive safe food handling instruction as part of their caregiver training
  • 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. Since the certification process teaches employees about safe food handling techniques and proper food preparation, it helps to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

How to get a Washington food handler card

To get a food handler permit, Washington food service workers must complete a training program offered by their local health department or through the statewide authorized online training program.

The Washington food handler program covers various topics related to safe food handling, including:4

  • 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 handler permit.

Food handler permit verification

Once they have 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.3

Washington state food handler license fees

Workers can earn a Washington food handler card online through the official government-authorized training program or in person through their local health department. Whether the worker completes the course online or in person, a food handler card costs $10 in Washington.1

Some employers may choose to cover the cost of this certification for their employees, but the state does not require it since the food handler card is valid anywhere in Washington.

How long does it take to get a food handler card?

The food handler training course and examination take between one to three hours to complete and must include at least 30 minutes of instruction. 

Once a course participant completes the course, passes the exam and pays the certification fee, they will receive their food handler certification. Washington state issues physical cards to all certified food handlers.3

Washington food handler permit renewal requirements

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.

To get a renewed food handler card, workers must take a food handler training class and pass the Washington state food handler exam. Renewal cards are valid for three years from the issue date.

Food service workers with a current certification card can also receive a five-year food handler card if they can show they have completed an approved additional food safety training course within the past two years.1

Food handler card reciprocity

Food handler 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.1

Insurance requirements for Washington restaurants

Restaurant owners can help protect their businesses from everyday risks with Washington business insurance. Many businesses in the state consider these insurance coverage options:

General Liability insurance

General liability insurance can help protect your business if a covered accident causes property damage or a third-party injury.

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 costs.

Workers’ Compensation insurance

Workers’ compensation insurance can help cover expenses such as lost wages or medical expenses if an employee is injured on the job. Nearly every Washington business with employees must carry workers’ comp insurance.5

Commercial Property insurance

Commercial property insurance can help pay for repairs or replacements for your business’s physical assets if they are damaged by a covered event, such as an electrical fire or burst pipe. Some business assets covered by this type of insurance include inventory, equipment, furniture and buildings. 

Commercial Auto insurance

Commercial auto insurance can help provide important coverage for medical expenses, property damage and other related costs if you or an employee are driving a work vehicle and get involved in an accident.

Washington state requires that all automobiles and motorcycles have minimum insurance coverage of $25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident and $10,000 for property damage.6

How NEXT Insurance supports Washington food handlers

NEXT provides tailored Washington restaurant insurance policies designed for small businesses and self-employed business owners.

It only takes about 10 minutes to get a quote, review your coverage options, choose your policies and download a certificate of insurance.

Our team of licensed insurance advisors is standing by to assist you if you have any questions along the way.

Start an instant quote online today.

Do you need food handler certification in another U.S. state? Visit our summary of food handler license requirements in every state.


1 Food Worker Card Washington Department of Health

2 Food Safety Rules and Regulations

Chapter 245-217 Food Worker Cards

4 Washington State Food Worker Manual

5 Employers’ Guide to Workers’ Compensation Insurance in Washington

6 Washington State’s Mandatory Auto/Motorcycle Insurance Law

Washington food handler card and insurance requirements


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.

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