Tax Trivia: Sales and Use Tax in Complex Areas

Sales and use tax can be complicated--at the tax office, we recognize that not every purchase fits neatly within a single category--some items may be unique, others may be treated differently for sales tax purposes depending on how they are used, and some may be a combination of various taxable and non-taxable goods and services. This page is intended to provide guidnace on some of the more common items that the tax office recieves questions about. 

Tax Determinations

Sometimes tax questions require slightly more than the tax tax matrix--for all of those questions, the Tax Office's tax determinations can help departments make the correct taxability decision. 

Laboratory Testing

Where a laboratory testing service involves human analysis of a sample or data, the testing is a professional service not subejct to sales tax, even if machinery or software is used in the analysis. Where the testing is conducted entirely by a machine or software program without the application of human expertise, it will typically be taxable. 

Online Training Courses

Online training courses are generally subject to retail sales tax unless they are offered live (in real time, with a human instructor) or consist of an accredited program offered by a public or private elementary school, secondary school, or institution of higher education. 

Repairs, Improvement, or Construction of Tangible Personal Property Outside Washington for Use Inside Washington

In general, repairs and improvements to, as well as construction of, tangible personal property are subject to sales or use tax. This rule includes situations in which a piece of UW equipment is shipped out of state for repairs and returned to UW for use in Washington. 

Airline Tickets/Airline Charters

The federal government imposes a variety of excise taxes and fees on airline tickets (including airline charters), and has preempted state taxation of airline tickets. Except in exceptional circumstances, airline tickets are not subject to Washington state sales or use tax.

In-Depth Tax Guidance

Not all tax questions can be answered in a one-liner--where more nuanced analysis is needed, consult our in-depth tax guidance. 


In general, sales of "food" and "food ingredients" are treated as an exception to the taxability of tangible items in Washington. In this context, "food" means items sold for human consumption (not including alcohol or tobacco) and includes most items that would typically be purchased at a grocery store. However, sales of "prepared food" are subject to tax. Prepared food is food of the type that would typically be sold at a restaurant, deli counter, or similar location where the food is prepared in some manner by an employee for the customer. Prepared food includes food which is heated by the seller (such as a hot coffee); food which is sold with utensils by the seller (such as soup in a bowl); food that the seller creates by combining two or more ingredients and sells as a single item (such as a pizza made by the seller--whether sold in a heated or cold state); and food sold in an establishment whose sales consist of more than 75% prepared food and which provides utensils to customers. There are limited exceptions to the definition of prepared food, including bakery items; items which the seller only cuts, repackages, or pasteurizes; items containing raw products unsafe for human consumption; and food sold in an unheated state by weight or volume as a single item. The following table (while not exhaustive) summarizes the taxability of food and food products in Washington. 

Item Taxability Explanation
Raw food and food ingredients (fruit, meat, eggs, vegetables, flour, etc) Non-taxable Uncooked food and food ingredients are not subject to retail sales tax 
Food sold heated by the seller (including caterers, coffee shops, restaurants, delis, etc) Taxable Food sold in a heated state by the seller is "prepared food" subject to retail sales tax
Food sold with utensils provided by the seller (including non-bottled beverages requiring a cup, pre-wrapped sandwiches sold with a knife) Taxable Food sold with utensils provided by the seller is "prepared food" subject to retail sales tax
Food which is prepared by the seller from two or more ingredients (other than bakery items), (including coffee drinks, sandwiches, take-and-bake pizzas, etc) Taxable Food which the seller creates from two or more ingredients is "prepared food" subject to retail sales tax
Food which is prepared by the seller from two or more ingredients, but which requires cooking to prevent foodborne illness (if not sold with utensils) Non-taxable Food which requires cooking to prevent foodborne illness is not considered prepared food if not sold with a utensil provided by the seller
Bakery items (including bread, rolls, buns, biscuits, bagels, croissants, pastries, cookies, etc) whether sold in a heated or unheated state if sold without utensils Non-taxable Bakery items are non-taxable
Four servings or more of food or food ingredients packaged for sale as a single item and sold for a single price (unless seller's customary practice is to physically hand or otherwise deliver a utensil to the customer as part of the sales transaction) Non-taxable Food sold as a single item that contains four or more servings is not considered "sold with a utensil" unless the seller hands a utensil to the customer
Soft drinks and dietary supplements Taxable Soft drinks and dietary supplements are taxable
Pre-bottled beverages containing milk (or milk substitutes), or greater than 50% vegetable or fruit juice by volume Non-taxable These beverages are not considered soft drinks 
Cold food which consists of two or more ingredients combined by the seller and is sold by weight or volume and which is not sold with utensils  Non-taxable Cold food sold without utensils is not "prepared food" if sold by weight or volume
Food sold in an establishment which makes sales of more than 75% prepared food and makes utensils available to customers (includes otherwise non-taxable food and food ingredients, bakery items, etc). Note: this rule overrides the other rules of non-taxability except sales of single items with four or more servings Taxable Food sold in an establishment that makes more than 75% taxable sales and makes utensils available to customers is taxable


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