School Food Safety
Food Safety in Schools
All schools are required to have an annual operating permit, just like all other food service establishments. School kitchens, coffee carts, student stores, and concession stands are all inspected to make sure food is handled safely.
We often get questions about the need for a temporary permit for a PTA or other sponsored event involving the school. Temporary permits are required for any specialized school event, publicly advertised, that involves food preparation or service to the public by individuals that are not school kitchen personnel. The public would be considered anyone who is outside of the school population. The school population is the students, staff and the families of students and staff. If the public is invited and they are charged a fee for food, a temporary event permit is required. If the public is invited and the food is given away without a charge, a temporary permit is still required.
If a school kitchen staff member is on-site to monitor the event as the designated Person in Charge, the event could be under the school kitchen annual permit and would not require a temporary permit. The exception to that would be an event like a barbecue planned for the school, where cooking is outside of the main kitchen area, a temporary permit will always be required. For more specific examples of events and when a permit is required, see below.
Applications for temporary permits must be fully completed and submitted and the fee paid 14 calendar days before the event. If it is less than 14 days before an event, there will be a late fee. If there are fewer than two days before the event, you cannot apply online and must apply in person at the Snohomish County Health Department.
If you have any questions on temporary permits, go to the Temporary Food Establishment webpage for more information. You can also contact the Health Department at 425.339.5250 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When are Temporary Event Permits Needed?
These are some examples of school events and if a temporary event permit is needed in each case:
A harvest festival that the school is advertising to the public. The public would be considered anyone who is outside of the school population. The school population is the students, staff and the families of students and staff. If the public is invited and they are charged a fee for food, a temporary event permit is required. If the public is invited and the food is given away without a charge, a temporary permit is still required.
A pancake breakfast, advertised to the public, organized by the PTA, but monitored by a kitchen staff member. This event would be under the school kitchen annual permit if a kitchen staff member is on-site to monitor the event as the designated Person in Charge.
An ice cream social for the school population. This would be considered a private event or a closed function. Only the school is invited. This would not require a temporary event permit. The Snohomish County Health Department still encourages following food safety requirements. Wash hands, no bare hand contact, personal hygiene safety. Keep food as safe as possible, even without a permit.
A barbecue is planned for the school, outside of the main kitchen area. A temporary event permit will always be required. This event cannot be under the school kitchen annual permit because it is outside, in a different location, using different equipment than what they were permitted for. This is not something that the Health Department approved or inspects annually. This is especially important if raw hamburger is cooked on a BBQ and served to the school.
A football game where food is sold at a concession stand. The concession stand is required to have an annual permit. Concession stands are inspected by the Snohomish County Health Department yearly. They do not need a temporary event permit since they are already permitted.
Classroom Food Safety
Many schools have classroom parties for the holidays or other special occasions that include refreshments. In addition, students may bring treats from home to celebrate a birthday or other special day. Since improperly handled food can be the source of foodborne illness, it is wise to use caution when planning these events. Always practice good hygiene when offering food in classrooms, including proper hand washing.
Hands must be washed before setting up the event, after using the restroom, after sneezing or coughing, and as necessary when food is being served. Use serving utensils to avoid bare hand contact. The Snohomish County Health Department offers these Classroom Food Safety guidelines for handling or serving food in classrooms.
If you have any questions concerning these guidelines, please contact the Food Program at email@example.com.
Food Sharing Tables
Food sharing tables are designed to reduce food waste and provide the option for students to have extra nutritious food if they are still hungry. If your school is considering implementing a food sharing table, you will need to create a clear plan and get that plan approved by the Snohomish County Health Department using this Share Table form.
The plan needs to address and include the location of the sharing table, signage, allergy concerns, time and temperature controls, not accepting home-prepared lunch items, and a system to throw food away after the lunch period. The plan will need to be supported by the principal, building staff, and school nurse. The plan will also need to describe how students will be educated to make sure the sharing table process is successful. It is important that students and staff understand that only commercial unopened food or food from the school kitchen can be placed on the sharing table.
Check out our School Health and Safety page for other ways we help to keep school children healthy.