We go behind the scenes of the Compass investigation into food safety inspections. Host Kayla Young interviews journalist Kevin Morales about redacted inspection reports and the lack of public disclosure on safety evaluations. We discuss Freedom of Information and public safety, including comments from the Department of Environmental Health.
Read the feature discussed in this podcast here.
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Kayla Young: Welcome, welcome, welcome to the Cayman Compass newscast. We are here with journalist and our fearless editor, Kevin Morales today.
Kevin Morales: Thank you, Kayla. It’s good to be here.
KY: Yeah, I’m excited to be here with you and, you know, just provide this opportunity to give the public a bit of a peek into the ‘behind the scenes’ at the Compass.
KM: Yeah, that’s, that’s always the interesting thing about these podcasts. You know, I subscribe to the Washington Post daily podcast and it’s one thing to read the articles and get the information in a kind of a traditional way. And then you listen to the reporters talk about it.
The great thing about podcasts is you can actually play the sound from a particular interview. And it just, kind of, is the perfect complement to a lot of the print stories and learning some of the stuff you otherwise didn’t know and actually hearing straight from the people and the tone of voice, et cetera.
So I’m happy to bring this kind of product to our viewers, listeners and readers.
KY: Well, and I think something that’s interesting with a lot of these especially investigative features that we do is the story behind them, that the public doesn’t necessarily realise the effort that goes into accessing public records.
And today we’re going to dive into a bit of a freedom of information discussion. Now tell me about the feature that you had in the Jan. 10 Cayman Compass.
KM: So, for today I ended up turning three stories that all centre around the Department of Environmental Health’s food safety programme.
One of the first stories, really the crux of it, is that while food inspection records – you know, part of what the DEH does is they send inspectors out to restaurants or gas stations or anywhere that serves or prepares food and just make sure that it’s clean. You know, that the sink and the garbage are far enough away and that pest control is there and things like that.
So my stories today, one of them is about how you can access the records from their food inspection officers. But they won’t let you know specifically what business it is they’re talking about. So you could get an inspection report that says, this place is super clean, or this place is really dirty, and these improvements need to be made. But they actually will take white out and redact all the relevant information, like a business’s name, address, telephone number, who the manager is, who the owner is, all that stuff. So you don’t actually know what business is clean or what business is less than.
KY: And who is ‘they’? Who is redacting these records?
KM: So technically speaking, it would be the information officer from the Department of Environmental Health. The way that the FOI process works is you submit – and this is the public or a journalist, it doesn’t matter. Anybody’s able to do this. You submit an email to the information officer, telling them specifically what records you are looking for.
And then they have 30 days to respond to you and say, yes, we’ll give you these records, here they are. Or they might give you redacted records, which is in the case of my story today, what we got. Or they might tell you no and then you do have some steps you can take after that.
To follow the rest of this discussion, listen to our podcast.