Environmental health teams uncovered mouse droppings, poor hygiene, dirty food preparation areas, wash basins without soap or towels at premises in Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre.

City council consumer services inspectors reported cause for concern just days after the £530 million flagship centre opened in September


Further visits over an 18-month period found examples of failure to comply with health-and-safety regulations.

Formal letters warning proprietors to mend their ways were sent in four cases - including two to Selfridges.

Inspections of the Yo! Sushi bar, which serves 1,500 meals a day, in the department store's food hall found that staff preparing food were not washing their hands nor changing gloves between tasks. Handbasins lacked towels and soap.

Health inspector Waiman Lai noted: "Many of the chopping boards are worn and cannot be effectively cleaned."

Mr Lai, who visited Yo! Sushi in November last year, said a separate area for raw meat preparation should be established immediately.

He added: "There is a build-up of grease and debris under the cooking stove and on fridge handles."

Mr Lai was also critical of the Selfridges Noodle Bar, which he visited in January this year, where he discovered a "build-up of dirt and debris" under the central work unit.

A second formal letter was sent to Selfridges in respect of the food hall.

Washbasins lacked soap and towels and the cleaning of the public restaurant needed

attention, Mr Lai decided. A letter was also sent to the Del Villaggio restaurant in the Bullring , where in November last year Mr Lai found "many items" of stock beyond their shelf life.

The restaurant was ordered to pay more attention to cleaning.

Chopping boards needed replacing and there was no hot water in the hand basins.

An inspection of the Tiffin Bites Indian take-away in June 2004 uncovered mouse droppings near the fridge.

Environmental health inspector Neil Brennan sent a formal letter requiring the premises to be "pest proofed".

Mr Brennan ordered the manager to call out a pest controller immediately and to sanitise all surfaces at the start of the day.

A later visit found no further sign of mouse droppings.

Mr Brennan visited the Baguette Du Monde sandwich bar in the Bullring, where he found mouse droppings.

The shop was given two weeks to carry out a full pest-control survey. A followup visit found no further signs of mouse droppings.

The Birmingham Post used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain reports of 24 environmental health-inspections.

About half of the reports made only minor recommendations and showed no cause for concern.

Tim Walley, Bullring general manager, ordered an investigation after being contacted by The Birmingham Post.

However, after talking to the council food-safety team, Mr Walley said the reports were "no cause for concern".

He added: "We want to reassure the public that the Bullring operates stringent measures designed to maintain cleanliness and hygiene at the centre."

A spokeswoman for Selfridges said: "We are constantly working to ensure high levels of catering standards.

"We therefore take all reports from the environmental health office very seriously and our food-safety manager works closely with them to ensure all our stores comply with their recommendations and all current legislation."

A council spokeswoman added: "The council takes strong enforcement action against food premises where unsatisfactory conditions encourage dirt and rodent infestation and this will help to reduce the problem."