Thinking of cruising anytime soon? Are you already booked on a cruise? If so, our cruise lawyers here at LM&W have some important eye-opening news you may want to consider.
Every year the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducts routine inspections of cruise ships to ensure that cruise lines meet certain safety and sanitary standards. Vessels with foreign itineraries that carry more than 13 passengers are subject to two yearly inspections. The inspections cover various factors that the CDC, in conjunction with the cruise industry, have determined are important to passenger health and safety. Ships are scored on a 100-point scale, and points are deducted based on whether inspection criteria is met. Ships with a score of 85 and below are considered to have failed the inspection.
Several things are reviewed during a CDC inspection. Among the points covered are the methods each ship uses for isolating passengers who have become infected with Norovirus. Norovirus is a gastrointestinal disease that frequently affects cruise passengers, causing several unpleasant symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea – symptoms that can make any cruise vacation less than optimal, to say the least. Given the number of Norovirus outbreaks that have already been recorded this year – and the frequency with which outbreaks tend to strike – it’s important that each cruise line have in place an effective plan in place in the event passengers or crew get sick.
But while it should be all but common sense for cruise lines to do so, not every cruise line keeps the ships in their fleet optimally sanitized. Hence the need for the CDC to step in and ensure cruise operators are following proper health and safety sanitation protocols.
So, what really goes on during a CDC vessel sanitation inspection?
During the inspections, several elements are reviewed. For starters, the ship’s water quality is tested. Many vessels have their own onboard water treatment plants, which are also subject to water quality inspections. But potable water isn’t the only water on board that is tested. Swimming pools and other recreational water areas are subject to testing as well. Filtration systems are also inspected and, if seawater is harvested, these systems are also subject to inspection.
Cabin cleanliness is also taken into account when determining the results of the CDC’s inspections. Signs and other safety markings are also inspected to ensure that ships are taking all precautions necessary to ensure that passengers stay safe.
Because ships also provide food service, kitchens and dining rooms are also subject to scrutiny. Personnel are questioned about their food safety knowledge to determine whether they have been properly trained in how to handle food in a sanitary manner. Hygienic practices among crew who handle food items are also evaluated, as are general practices regarding hygiene of crew members. In addition, a ship’s cleaning procedures are also inspected, as are protocols for handling crew member illnesses.
Food sources are also evaluated to ensure that cruise ships are sourcing provisions from legal suppliers and that food is properly inspected and processed. Kitchens are required to prevent cross-contamination among riskier food items. But the CDC’s inspections don’t stop there. Cruise lines are also evaluated on how they handle refills and supply additional portions to passengers, including the over-use of utensils. These procedures are imperative to the health and safety of passengers, and can help prevent outbreaks or sickness.
Food storage is another area that’s evaluated for safety and cleanliness, and food is tested to ensure that it is kept at a proper and safe temperature. Methods that are used to clean utensils and other food items are also evaluated. Lighting, pest management, poison control, and safety of child care centers are also inspected.
When considering all the factors that go into these inspections, one can appreciate the sheer number of hazards both passengers and crew might face on board any given cruise. Fortunately, many cruise lines pass these inspections. However, there are a number that do not. For this reason, the CDC publicizes all inspection records – a very useful tool for prospective passengers. Anyone thinking of booking a vacation can review previous ship scores on the CDC’s Website and make an educated decision when determine which vessel to sail aboard for their next holiday.