County revises food rules

Following in the footsteps of the State Board of Health, Island County is revisiting its food codes in a move that could, among other things, ease rules on bake sales.

Beginning May 2, Washington will adopt recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration. The state’s code has not been updated since 1992. Island County will reevaluate its food code to ensure that it is in line with the state’s code.

“It would be nice if Island County were in a position to have our rules comply with those,” said Keith Higman, Island County’s Environmental Health director.

Among the largest changes is redefining the danger zone, the range of temperatures foods should avoid. The old code has the danger zone ranging from 45 degrees to 140 degrees. The new code will require foods to be refrigerated below 41 degrees, which should be no problem for Island County restaurants.

Island County code requires foods to be stored below 40 degrees.

The push for the changes came from within the food industry, Higman said.

“Our thinking at this point is that what was driving the changes at the state level was consistency,” he said.

Island County’s Food Inspector Sally Waters said that inconsistency among food inspectors across the state is frustrating to restaurant operators.

“There were some people interpreting the code the way they wanted it to go,” Waters said. “It needed to be uniform and clear cut.”

Waters said that local establishments should not have a problem with enforcing the new rules because Island County’s code exceeds the current state code in a number of places. Little rule changes, such as no watch wearing might take some patience, she said.

In March, Higman said the health department will bring detailed proposals to the county Board of Health. Those rules would be subject to a public hearing in April. He said he hopes the county’s rules will be ready for adoption in May along with the state code.

One of the changes people who do not even own a restaurant might notice is that bake sales will no longer need a special health permit.

Island County has not had a food-born illness outbreak in at least two or three years, Waters said. And that was a group of people who traveled off Whidbey, she said. The county’s restaurant and grocery store operators are diligent in maintaining safe establishments.

“We have so few problems and reports of food-born illness; it shows that everyone is doing their best,” she said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at

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