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How to Get a Food Handler's Permit in Washington State

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Approximately 400 to 700 individuals across Washington become afflicted with one of 40 to 60 foodborne illnesses annually and unreported cases may number in the thousands, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Kitchens in homes are common culprits of foodborne illness, but restaurants are subject to strict guidelines on the safe handling of food and hand washing procedures to try to prevent the spread of illness from the food being served. County health department representatives inspect restaurants and make reports available to the public. Workers handling food must obtain a food worker card, also known as a food handler permit.

Determine whether you are a food worker. DOH classifies individuals as food workers if they work with unpackaged food and its associated utensils and equipment, including surfaces where unwrapped food may be handled. If this applies to you, you must obtain and have in your possession a valid food worker card.

Visit your local county health department to receive the necessary training to be a food worker and obtain a card. According to the Washington Administrative Code, a candidates must receive a minimum of 30 minutes of instruction on the topics of bacteriology, foodborne illness, proper cooking and cooling techniques, and food allergies. You should also receive a copy of the currently approved manual for food and beverage service workers.

Pass the required exam with a minimum score of 80 percent to receive your card. The same exam is given statewide, although individual health districts may include questions regarding local concerns. The training and the exam combined should take approximately 90 minutes to complete, according to King County Public Health. As of 2011, every candidate must also pay a $10 application fee.

Maintain a valid card by renewing it after two years. You must complete the training and exam again within two years and then subsequent renewals are valid for three or five years. Five year cards require additional training and a valid card for renewal.


Plan to obtain your food worker card prior to your first day of work. If this is not possible, you have 14 days to obtain one. No minimum age requirement exists in Washington to earn a food worker permit.


Local health officers may revoke food worker cards from individuals who repeatedly violate food safety procedures or are known to have spread a communicable disease. Falsifying the information required to obtain a card will also lead to a revocation. Once a card is revoked, it may not be reissued until the problem is resolved.