Select Committee on Food Standards Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 840 - 844)



  840.  Including Public Health Laboratory Service labs.
  (Professor Duerden)  Public Health Laboratory Service laboratories are not food producing establishments. Am I not right in thinking that the power of entry would be to places where food was being prepared and stored?
  (Professor Gilbert)  No, in fairness they would have the powers to visit our labs. I do not think we would be concerned at all. I think they would really be coming to look at our records and laboratory results. Obviously all of our laboratories have full accreditation. We are officially controlled under EU legislation but if the FSA inspectors, or anybody else, officials, wanted to visit our labs at any time to look at our records I would have no problem with that.

  841.  You think the fact it will have the power to inspect other premises as well is a good thing?
  (Professor Gilbert)  It is a good thing up to a point. It is when you get to medical records and confidentiality where it becomes a little bit difficult. I do not think laboratories should be treated any differently. We will stand up to inspections like anybody else.

  842.  You mentioned one problem which is the confidentiality of records. Do you see any other difficulties that could arise from the inspection procedure?
  (Dr Mayon-White)  One of the things that I would be wishing to have clarified in the legislation is that it refers to an authorised person and I think an authorised person reading medical records needs medical knowledge. Otherwise the food handler may be unfairly penalised or the medical problem may be totally misunderstood. I think it is very unclear to me reading this whether the authorised person would have sufficient medical knowledge. I suspect that person would not have and therefore the Food Standards Agency will need to have a link to somebody who can provide that medical advice.

  843.  Would you like to see that specifically enshrined in the Bill?
  (Dr Mayon-White)  I believe it should be. There is it seems to me an understanding with the public at large that medical records are examined by medical or health service people and that if somebody else looks at them that person is looking at them with a medical background either with the explicit consent of the individual patient (person who is ill) or because the health professional looking at them is closely allied to the doctor who is looking after the patient. I think it will cause difficulties if an inspector who is a Food Standards Agency inspector is perceived as looking at people's medical records as held by the employer. That would seem to me to inhibit the reporting of illness by the food handlers and therefore increase the risks of food hazards from an infected food handler.

  844.  So you are not currently completely satisfied that the Bill is worded properly in this area?
  (Dr Mayon-White)  No.
  (Professor Gilbert)  I think one of the other things is the way the Bill is worded when it talks about powers to carry out observations, the officials would be able to go in and take samples of food, water and the environment but they will not be able to measure a temperature. They will not have the authority to take measurements. This is part of our written evidence. That seems to me to be an unfortunate omission at the moment.

Dr Stoate:  Thank you, Chairman.

Chairman:  Could I thank you all very much indeed for giving evidence. I hope that if our report does not reflect everything that has been said this afternoon, and I am sure some of it will be, the Agency if it is set up will look in detail at the evidence you have given here this afternoon. Thank you very much.

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