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How to Avoid Food Poisoning on a Cruise Ship

Food poisoning is one of the most common illnesses contracted on board a cruise ship due to so many people occupying the same space and sharing facilities. The illness can leave you confined to your cabin and unable to enjoy the rest of your holiday. It is usually caused by a failure to prepare or store food according to safety standards, and this neglect can lead to outbreaks of illnesses, stomach bugs and viruses, including norovirus, campylobacter, E.coli, salmonella, shingles and dysentery.

However, there are steps you can take to prevent your holiday from being cut short, allowing you to make the most of the exotic locations you’ll be visiting on your travels.

1. Use bottled water

The water on board reputable cruise liners is generally safe to drink and use, but using bottled water or purification tablets and tools can ensure you’re not struck down by illness if the ship’s supply becomes contaminated. It’s also worth keeping a bottle of clean water by the sink in the bathroom for brushing your teeth, as people can end up sick this way too.

The need to use bottled water applies more so when you’re visiting one of the countries on your trip, as many local water supplies are not as clean as that in the UK. If buying bottled water on land, be sure to check that the seal is intact before drinking, as many vendors will refill used plastic waters from local sources.

2. Be cautious when choosing what to eat

The most common cause of food poisoning is improperly prepared, stored or cooked food, so consider these tips when eating on or off a cruise ship:

  • Check that food is cooked through and freshly made - uncooked meat and seafood are well-known culprits of food poisoning

  • Avoid eating salads, fruit and raw seafood when dining on land, particularly in less developed countries, as they may have been washed using the local water supply. Most cruise lines adhere to strict guidelines for keeping food clean, but it’s advisable to eat these types of food in moderation

  • Watch out for unpasteurised foods, such as dairy products and eggs, as salmonella, listeria and campylobacter microbes lurk in these. It’s always best to ask if milk, butter, cheese and eggs are pasteurised before eating a dish containing them

3. Avoid self-service catering if you can

Many cruise liners use self-service buffets to cater for the mass of people on board the ship. And although this style of dining is usually kept to a minimum during the first few days of a trip to reduce the risk of illness, passengers can be exposed to bacteria and viruses every time they dock in a new place, which can then be passed on to other passengers.

To reduce your chances of becoming ill, avoid self-service options entirely. There will usually be a variety of restaurants and eateries on board a cruise ship that may cost you extra, but being a little out of pocket is much better than only being able to see out of your porthole window for your entire holiday.

If you’re unable to avoid self-service, politely decline table and silverware passed down to limit contact with other passengers and to avoid their germs.

4. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly

Before eating or touching food and after using the toilet, it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly to ensure you have killed any bacteria or microbes you may have picked up. When washing your hands, you should:

  • Use clean water and apply soap

  • Rub your hands together for about 30 seconds, being sure to scrub between fingers and under the nails

  • Dry with a paper towel and use it to turn off the water and exit the bathroom to avoid recontamination

If you suspect the water is unclean, you should pack alcohol-based sanitiser or hand wipes to use as a replacement. A hand sanitiser gel can also come in handy when you’ve touched frequently-used items, such as handrails, door handles, cash machines and lift controls.

5. Report sickness immediately

If you, someone you are with or another passenger vomits, be sure to alert a member of staff immediately so they can clean it up. Don’t try and clean it up yourself as some viruses are known to spread through inhalation and crew members have been trained on how to handle bodily fluids.

If you notice a fellow passenger sneezing or coughing quite a lot, avoid contact with them and tell member of staff, who can provide a solution.

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