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Sketchy Food

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Social media is for status updates, not mystery meal purchases.

  • Back of a van with a microwave, crock pots, a cooler, and organizing drawers to sell food illegally.

    How safe is food sold from the back of a van? You gamble with your health when you buy food from unpermitted and uninspected food sellers.

A post for a mouth-watering home-cooked meal just popped up on your social media feed. The poster claims to have a food worker card. While the food may look delicious, it just might come with a side order of foodborne illness.

Before you click buy, consider these questions:

  • Was the food seller sick while making the food?
  • Did he or she use a clean and sanitary meal prep area?
  • Was the food cooked and stored safely?
  • Did the food seller wash their hands with soap and warm water after using the restroom, touching pets, or blowing his or her nose?


You probably have no way of knowing the answers—and neither do we.

The problem with food from unpermitted and uninspected kitchens

Online food sales can be a recipe for disaster. Sellers most likely use home kitchens—great for family meals but not large scale food preparation for the public. The Health Department does not permit or inspect home kitchens. A food worker card allows people to work in a permitted food service establishment (restaurants, coffee shops, food trucks, etc.). It does not allow them to prepare food at home to sell to the public.

When you buy meals online, you gamble with your health and safety. These sellers typically use kitchens we don’t permit and inspect, so we have no guarantee they followed food safety practices. These standards protect everyone from foodborne illnesses like norovirus, salmonella, and E. coli. If you suspect you have a foodborne illness, report it to us right away.

Don’t put your appetite ahead of concern for your safety. Food purchased on social media can be hazardous to your health.

How can people sell food made at home legally?

The Cottage Food Law, allows sellers to make certain baked goods—like cookies and cupcakes in their home kitchens to sell directly to the public. The Washington State Department of Agriculture has a list of licensed cottage food operators.

Resources

Report a Suspected Unpermitted Online Food Seller—Not only is it unsafe for people to sell food without a permit, it’s also illegal.

Permitted Pierce County Caterers—Food establishments with permits from the Health Department to operate as caterers.

Inspection Reports for Pierce County Food Establishments—If a food establishment has a permit to operate in Pierce County, you can look them up in this database of two-year history of food establishment inspections.

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