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Cruise ship food safety nightmares

May 28, 2015

A new study has found that cruise ships really are the perfect environments for foodborne illnesses to thrive. With so many people in such close confines, bacteria and other harmful contagions are quickly and easily able to spread from person to person.

The study commissioned by independent newsroom ProPublica found that of the 22 million passengers who travelled on cruise ships last year, more than 1,700 crew and passengers became ill with some type of gastrointestinal infection.

The very nature of a cruise ship means that its passengers can’t simply pack up and leave, which means that it is very difficult for them to avoid getting sick if there are contagious people aboard. One of the more frequent illnesses spread through cruise ships is norovirus, an extremely contagious bug that causes vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea and abdominal pain.

An invisible threat

Foodborne illnesses are often invisible to the naked eye and can be easily passed back and forth between water, food, humans and surfaces. Also, because they can have an incubation time where the infected person shows no symptoms, someone could be infected for days and unknowingly be spreading the illness around the ship. On a cruise ship, this can easily happen via the buffet table or bathrooms as they are usually closely shared with other passengers.

The improper stacking of dish trolleys has been widely noted during inspections carried out on cruise ships by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Food that is not properly stacked or stored has a higher chance of spreading bacteria and other harmful contagions.

Dirty dishes piled in sinks and unwell staff working in the kitchen, were also noted to increase the risk of spreading illness.

Cruise ship sickness prevention

CDC inspections are regularly carried out on cruise ships when they dock in the US and in the last 20 years, there have reportedly been over 200 cruise ship related outbreaks.

Although the study indicates that the vast majority of people do safely enjoy their floating holiday, being contained in a moist, populous environment out in the middle of the ocean gives these foodborne illnesses the perfect opportunity to flourish.

With regards to food safety extra steps should be taken by anyone spending time on a cruise ship. People should be extra careful when eating from buffets, thoroughly wash their hands or use hand sanitizers and carefully dispose of waste to help reduce the risk of becoming sick and ruining your holiday.