Monday, February 13, 2012
ARE CRUISE SHIPS SANITATION INSPECTIONS WORKING?
One of the main sites I have suggested is the U.S. Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The purpose of the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) is to help "prevent and control the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses on cruise ships." In most cases, we are talking about Norovirus-caused outbreaks on cruise ships - the kind that has been in the news lately.
The main activity of the VSP is inspection of cruise ships with more than 13 passengers and a foreign itinerary when these ships enter U.S. ports. Cruise ships are supposed to be inspected about twice each year.
When I took a closer look at the scores, reports and corrections of theses inspections over the years, I was not impressed. In fact, these ship inspections reminded me of common weaknesses in the inspection of U.S. food processing plants and restaurants.
True, the ship inspections really seem to be catching many failures in sanitation. But I noticed two weaknesses. First, the scores can be very high - even a 100 score - in spite of the ship being loaded with problems, almost any one of which could trigger or spread an outbreak of GI illness. In fact, very, very few cruise ships ever get a "not satisfactory" score of 85 or below (the Queen Mary II - pictured - was one of the few that has done so during the last 12 months).
Secondly, the followup of problem correction is weak. In fact, the VSP does not check if any correction has taken place at all until the next inspection of the ship. This could be months or a year away. In the meantime, cruises continue, and passengers may be exposed to risks of getting seriously ill while supposedly on a pleasant vacation.
To your good health,