Council food safety inspections: your right to know

Under the Freedom of Information legislation, which came into force yesterday, any person can request food safety inspection reports that were previously classified as confidential. Using the new law, The Sunday Times obtained the most recent food safety inspections at Harrods, which were conducted last month. The reports are the first of their kind to be released under the act.

"The Kensington and Chelsea council documents reveal that the company was warned about its food storage practices and the potential risk to health during an inspection on December 7. The inspector found that foods were not being properly chilled to help to prevent the spread of dangerous bacteria."

UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, said: “Almost no area of life is left untouched, ranging from education to health and transport and the financial services. For instance, if you are going to use a maternity department in a hospital, then information on how long people stay in hospital and the procedures and practices of the staff are all there to be asked for.” Even if information is considered to be commercially sensitive or potentially embarrassing, a public body is obliged to release it if it is in the public interest.

Lord Falconer, the minister responsible for the UK Freedom of Information Act, may also face uncomfortable disclosures. His previous involvement with the Millennium Dome is also likely to come under scrutiny with information requests expected about the project.

Harrods first to fall to data law (Sunday Times, 2 January 2005)