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Original Airdate: Thursday, Jan 30, 2003
Prompted by recent outbreaks of Norwalk Virus on cruise ships, which have sickened thousands of travelers, Inside Edition boarded one of the afflicted ships, Carnival Cruise Lines' Fascination, to evaluate sanitary conditions onboard. Inside Edition sailed in December 2002, just ten days after more than 200 passengers and crewmembers were stricken, to observe sanitary procedures first hand and test for potentially illness causing bacteria. On a report scheduled to air today, Thursday, January 30, Inside Edition’s Senior Investigative Correspondent, Matt Meagher reports that passengers were not given information about the previous outbreak nor warned about procedures to avoid exposure to the virus.

David Nash Ph.D., founder of the American Food Safety Institute, accompanied Inside Edition aboard the ship. He was at first, very impressed. The kitchen seemed spotless and the Fascination's crew worked hard to keep the ship clean. But Dr. Nash was disturbed by a number of things Inside Edition observed on board, burgers not served hot, a stateroom vanity with visible dirt, and a curly black hair in a dessert. Bartenders repeatedly handled barware and drink ingredients with bare hands, some soap dispensers in public bathrooms were empty, and Nash says there was mold on an ice dispenser. “You don't have to look so hard to see some pretty unsanitary conditions,” Nash concluded.

Inside Edition also employed the services of an independent testing facility, HML Laboratories in Indiana, to test for illness-causing microorganisms. Inside Edition collected and tested 18 food samples, 2 water samples and one food contact surface. The findings: out of the 21 samples, two tested positive for a strain of Staphylococcus aureus that can cause food poisoning. Four tested positive for E. coli, and three for fecal streptococcus. The report however takes note of the fact that the water samples were satisfactory and all samples were free of Salmonella and Listeria, which also can cause food poisoning.

The Fascination passed its last official sanitation inspection by the Centers for Disease Control in July 2002. But Inside Edition learned the CDC inspections are done in port, sometimes with no passengers on board. Nash believes inspections should always take place at sea, when ships are filled with passengers. Nash says what Inside Edition found is worse than he would expect from many restaurants and adds a cruise ship, where people are in close contact for an extended period of time, should be held to a much higher standard

Carnival officials said that the temperatures recorded by Dr. Nash are not violations of U.S. sanitation or food codes. Carnival also questioned Dr. Nash’s expertise on cruise ship sanitation. The company told Inside Edition, “Food handling and sanitation is strictly and effectively monitored by the CDC” and said its fleet has “a positive CDC record and our ships provide one of the cleanest and most sanitary vacations environments available.” The company also said the inspections are so intensive and detailed few restaurants would be able to pass them.