The state Department of Health (DOH) has released their proposed draft revisions to update the Washington State Retail Food Code. This announcement continues the work that has taken place over the last nine months as your government affairs team has participated in the planning meetings for the revisions.

In July, DOH will hold six public presentations across the state and a webinar in order to receive feedback on the proposed draft food code. Click here for the dates and locations.

Here are nine of the most important proposed changes to the food code that we want to highlight for you. Your input, perspective, feedback, ideas and solutions are needed. Please contact Samantha Louderback, state government affairs senior manager, to submit your feedback.

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1. Bare Hand Contact with Ready-To-Eat-Foods

Summary: This was a topic that the Washington Hospitality Association asked DOH and the Food Safety Advisory Council to consider back in August 2018 during the first open comment period of the rules revision process. In the new proposed draft rule, operators who want to use minimal bare hand contact with ready-to-eat-food have a list of rules and documentation they would need to comply with.

Our position: Our ask to DOH was to allow minimal bare hand contract with ready-to-eat-foods with an increase of handwashing and regular and continuous employee training.

Request for feedback: After reviewing the list of proposed rules and documentation regulations, are these things your business could reasonably   document and comply with? Check out the list on page 47 and page 48 of the new draft food code for the complete list of requirements.

2. Dogs in Outdoor Areas

Summary: As we see an increase in the number of customers  who want to bring their four-legged friends with them to dine, hospitality operators have often been put in a position where they have to choose between  providing great customer service or they ignore the requirements of the food code. This proposed addition allows dogs in outdoor areas (like a patio or outdoor sitting area) after getting approval from the local health department.

Our position:  Support!

3. Date Marking for 7-Day Shelf-Life

Summary: This practice is already commonly found in the hospitality industry, but this new requirement would bring Washington state in alignment with the federal food code. This new addition would require most ready-to-eat, refrigerated, perishable foods in opened packages to be marked and used within a 7-day period.

Our position: We’ve asked for extensive training and outreach to food establishments before this goes into effect.


4. Refilling Reusable Consumer-Owned Containers

Summary: This would give establishments the option to allow customers to bring a clean container for their meal in house or for take-out. 

Our position: Concerned. We’ve voiced our concerns for cleanliness compliance of the containers, as well as the liability risk this puts on an establishment if we take a guest’s container into our kitchen.

Request for feedback- Would you allow a customer to bring in their own container to be filled with your take-out food? How could this proposal be implemented with little risk to your establishment?


5. Person in Charge (PIC) Certification

Summary: Unlike the federal Food and Drug Administration’s food code, which requires one person per shift to be food protection manger certified, Washington state is proposing that at least one person in charge (PIC) per establishment be a Certified Food Protection Manager (like ServSafe) by July 1, 2021. Currently the Washington state retail food code gives the option to food establishments by requiring the PIC to demonstrate knowledge of foodborne disease prevention, application of HAZARD analysis and CRITICAL CONTROL POINT principles, and the requirements of the chapter or be a Certified Food Protection Manager.

Our position: Food safety is critical for maintaining the health and safety of all hospitality guests and we support continued education and ongoing safety practices. We have been in support of this change because it only requires one person per establishment to be certified and takes a phased-in approach by giving operators nearly a year to get into compliance.


6. Employee Health

Summary: As norovirus outbreaks continue to spread, the Department of Health wants to ensure that employees know when they should and should not be working. This would require establishments to notify employees about reporting illnesses to the PIC and be able to verify they provided the notification. In addition to vomiting, diarrhea, or jaundice, employees are required to report illness or symptoms associated with salmonella, E. coli, hepatitis, norovirus, or shigella.

Our position: Neutral, and we support continued and increased education for employees.


7. Clean up of Vomit and Diarrheal Events

Summary:  Under the proposed rules, operators would need to have a written plan on how to clean up vomit and diarrheal events in a food establishment.

Our position: Neutral.


8. Cooking Temperatures

Summary:  Hamburger and other ground meats will need to cook to 158 degrees instantaneous instead of 155 degrees for 15 seconds. 

Our position:  Neutral


9. Menu Labeling Advisory

Summary: Currently, the food code does not allow restaurants to serve fresh fish that have not been cooked to 145 degrees or have been frozen for at least 72 hours. Because this is a practice that we see in Washington state, restaurants that want to serve fresh partially cooked, like salmon and halibut, will now be required to put an additional consumer advisory on their menu to warn of the potential concern for parasites. DOH is suggesting the menu advisory to read: “Consuming undercooked fresh fish may increase your risk of a parasitic illness.” 

Our position:  We support having an option to serve fresh, partially cooked fish but would like to avoid having to put a parasite on menus. Our suggestion is to have a menu advisory that covers all foodborne risks like:

“Consumption of raw or undercooked meats, fish or shellfish may be a health risk.” Or “Consumption of raw or undercooked meats, fish or shellfish may be a health risk, especially fresh partially-cooked fish.”

Request for feedback: Would you be willing to put an advisory detailing parasitic concerns on your menu in order to serve fresh fish that isn’t cooked to 145 degrees? Which menu advisory would you prefer?


To read all of the proposed Washington State Retail Food Code rule changes, click here.