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Food for thought . . .

The following is a guest post by David Mao, Law Librarian of Congress.  He has previously guest posted Another Trip Down Memory Lane2012 Burton Awards – Pic of the WeekShreddy: From the Office of the Law Librarian – Pic of the WeekFrom the Desk of the Law Librarian, The Law Librarian in London, and Rebellious Children and Witches.

This summer, we took a family trip to the West Coast. After flying to Seattle, we boarded a cruise ship that sailed north from Elliot Bay, stopping at various ports of call in Alaska and at the port in Victoria, British Columbia. As anyone who has been on a cruise knows, endless varieties of food are available at all hours of the day and night!  Intrigued by the amount and variety of the food offerings—the lunch and dinner menus in the dining room were different each day—I sought to learn more about food on the ship.

Fortuitously, I was able to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship’s galley. Actually, the ship we were on had two main galleys for the dining rooms and a galley for the ship’s food court. The pictures below are from one of the main galleys. I learned that for a single week-long cruise, 110 to 115 tons of food are delivered to the ship. Following are some of the impressive average daily statistics quoted to us during the tour.

Butter used: 400 pounds
Flour used: 1,500 pounds
Mayonnaise used: 13 gallons
Salads served: 1,600 pounds
Meats cooked: poultry (1,400 pounds), beef (1,700 pounds), and pork (1,400 pounds)
Potatoes cooked: 2,700 pounds
Vegetables cooked: 2,500 pounds
Soups made: 550 gallons
Fresh fruit served: 6,000 pounds
Coffee consumed: 470 gallons
Dishes washed: 70,000
Glasses washed: 21,500

After learning the last two statistics above and recalling recent stories of illnesses on cruises, I wondered about the laws and regulations for cruise ship health safety. I discovered that the United States regulates this aspect of the cruise industry through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Specifically, the CDC has a Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) that “assists the cruise ship industry to prevent and control the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses on cruise ships. VSP operates under the authority of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C.§ 264 Regulations to Control Communicable Diseases).” The program was established in the 1970s and every vessel with a foreign itinerary that carries 13 or more passengers is subject to inspections. VSP fulfills its mission through a variety of actions such as “inspecting cruise ships, including both periodic, unannounced operational sanitation inspections and scheduled construction inspections.” The program follows established health standards that can be found in a VSP Operations Manual and which are based upon the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code.

The VSP website provides a good description of periodic operational sanitation inspections including the following that I found particularly relevant.

What do CDC inspectors examine during a periodic sanitation inspection?
As to the galleys and dining rooms, they are examined “for food protection during sourcing, provisioning, storage, preparation, and service” and “employee health and personal hygiene are evaluated as well as facility equipment maintenance and dishwashing.”

How frequently are ships inspected?
“Cruise ships under VSP’s jurisdiction are subject to two inspections each year. If a ship sails outside of the United States for an extended period of time, it may not be inspected twice a year but will be inspected again when it returns to the United States.”

How are cruise ships scored?
“Cruise ships are scored on a 100-point scale. Inspection criteria, defined in the VSP 2011 Operations Manual, are assigned a point value; when the criteria are violated, inspection points are deducted from the score. Points are deducted from that score based on significance. An 85 or below is considered a failing score.”

In addition to lots of other health education information, the VSP makes all cruise ship inspection results and any corrective action statements available to the public.

As I mentioned above, the ship we were on also stopped in Canada. Thus, I was curious about Canadian regulations, too. Like the United States, Canada has a cruise ship inspection program. According to the program’s website, “unannounced inspections are conducted on cruise ships travelling in Canadian waters.” Moreover, “the inspections are conducted once per year during the cruise ship season” and “inspection items are weighted according to their probability of increasing the risk of a gastrointestinal disease outbreak (a satisfactory score is 86 points out of a possible 100 points and a score of 85 or lower is not satisfactory and requires a re-inspection within the following month).” Importantly, Canada also allows the general public to view ships’ latest public health inspection scores.

At the end of the tour I asked the ship’s executive chef about the health inspection laws in various countries. He said that generally speaking, in his opinion, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia had the most stringent inspections and regulations. I won’t mention the countries that he thought were the most lax—I’m just glad that on our itinerary we were under U.S. and Canadian oversight.

For the record, I searched the VSP site for the ship we were on and was very happy to see that it scored 100 on an inspection right before our trip, and also was not listed on the VSP list of Outbreak Updates for International Cruise Ships.

One Comment

  1. Ray Matthews
    September 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Scanning the blog it was the galley photo that first caught my attention. I thought it looked like the one on a cruise ship I was on in July. Then I realized that, indeed the article was about, cruise ship galleys. Thank you for the informative details and sharing the link to the database for the inspection reports (http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/default.htm). It was not only interesting, but reassuring that inspectors are so thorough. My vessel, btw, the Golden Princess, scored almost as well receiving a 98 in the last inspection.

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