(reprinted from Travel Weekly Magazine)
By Senior Contributing Editor Richard Bruce Turen
Given their fairness in all matters concerning cruise industry health and safety matters, I imagine I will soon be seeing a public apology from our friends at the major network news organizations and the decision-makers at our most respected newspapers concerning the issue of norovirus on cruise ships.
You see, the only judge we can trust on matters of public health, the research arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has issued new findings based on 4,318 outbreaks of the disease between 2009 and 2012. It looked at the cause of 161,253 illnesses before issuing its latest report. And guess what? It appears that the 24-hour news machines may have gone a bit overboard in placing the blame for the norovirus outbreaks at the feet of the cruise industry.
So here, in summary, is the research: 99% of the reported cases of norovirus occurred on land. Seventy percent of outbreaks from contaminated food were traced to infected food workers. And of those, 54% involved food workers touching “ready to eat” foods: for example, raw fruits and vegetables for salads or sandwiches. Restaurant food preparation was most often the culprit in food contamination-related outbreaks.
The CDC identified a major cause of the outbreaks as food handlers who do not stay home for 48 hours when they are feeling ill. That raises the distinct possibility that a significant portion of the 1% of norovirus outbreaks that actually did take place on cruise ships were brought aboard by passengers.
Whoops, CNN. Perhaps your reporters should spend more time in land-based kitchens and institutional food service lines. That might shed more light on this important public health subject. In fact, to protect our families from food-borne illnesses, it might not be a bad idea if we all spent more time at sea, away from the land-based food handlers in restaurants responsible for 99% of this illness. At least in the kitchens aboard the worldwide fleet, we know that many eyes are watching, and they employ certified food safety inspectors. I’m not sure about my local taqueria.