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Foodborne Illnesses on Cruise Ships: What to Do If You Become Sick

Posted in Food Safety on March 27, 2023

Cruise ships offer a great way to travel, but they can also present unique health risks. Foodborne illnesses can easily spread on cruise ships due to overcrowding, shared food sources, and unclean cooking facilities. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the risks and know what to do if you become ill.

Steps to Take If You Become Sick on a Cruise Ship

If you become sick on a cruise ship, it is essential to take immediate action to ensure that you receive the necessary medical attention and prevent the spread of illness to others. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Inform the onboard medical staff: If you start feeling ill or experience symptoms of foodborne illness, it is essential to see the ship’s doctor immediately. They will want to know what you ate in the last 24 hours and whether it came from the cruise ship itself.
  • Isolate yourself: Isolate yourself to prevent the spread of the disease to other passengers. Wear a mask, and follow the instructions given by the medical staff.
  • Follow medical advice: The onboard medical staff will advise you on next steps. Follow their instructions and take any medication as prescribed.
  • Inform your travel companions: If you are traveling with others, it is essential to inform them of your illness and advise them to monitor their health.
  • Follow the ship’s protocol: The ship will have a protocol in place for dealing with sick passengers.
  • Keep records: Keep a written log of your symptoms, medical treatment, and any expenses incurred. You may need these for insurance purposes.
  • Contact your travel insurance provider: If you have travel insurance, contact your provider as soon as possible to inform them of your illness and seek advice on what coverage is available.

It is also critical to report any foodborne illnesses to the appropriate authorities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is responsible for monitoring foodborne illnesses on cruise ships in the U.S. Notify the CDC as soon as possible so they can investigate the cause and prevent further cases.

Legal Options for Foodborne Illness from a Cruise Ship

If you became ill while on a cruise ship due to the cruise line’s negligence in handling food or in preventing the spread of illness, you might be entitled to compensation. To file a claim, you should consult with a food safety lawyer who has experience in handling cases involving foodborne illness on cruise ships. Your attorney can investigate the circumstances surrounding your illness and help you determine whether you have a valid claim. If you do, your attorney can help you gather the necessary evidence to negotiate a fair settlement or file a lawsuit. The process for filing a claim against a cruise line for foodborne illness can be complex and may involve different legal jurisdictions and statutes of limitations. Therefore, seeking legal advice as soon as possible after becoming ill on a cruise ship is important.

Types of Compensation Available in a Cruise Ship Foodborne Illness Lawsuit

If you become ill with food poisoning or another illness while on a cruise ship, you may be entitled to various types of compensation, which can include:

  • Medical expenses: Current and future costs of medical treatment, including hospitalization, medications, and other related expenses.
  • Lost wages: If you are unable to work due to your illness, you can recover compensation for current and future lost income.
  • Pain and suffering: Compensation for physical pain and emotional suffering caused by your illness.
  • Travel expenses: If you had to cut your trip short due to your illness, you may be entitled to compensation for travel expenses and other related costs.
  • Punitive damages: In some cases, a court will award punitive damages, which are intended to punish the cruise line for its negligence and to deter future misconduct.

The amount and types of compensation you can recover will depend on the circumstances of your case, such as the severity of your illness, strength of evidence against the cruise line, whether you were partially to blame, etc.

Common Causes of Foodborne Illness on Cruise Ships

Contaminated food on cruise ships can be caused by several factors, including:

Improper Food Handling and Preparation

Food can become contaminated if it is not handled or prepared correctly. This can include not washing hands, failing to cook food to the correct temperature, or using equipment that is not adequately cleaned.


Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria from one food item spreads to another. This can happen, for example, when using the same cutting board or utensils for raw meat and other foods.

Infected Food Handlers

Food handlers who are infected with a contagious illness can spread it to the food they prepare.

Contaminated Water or Ice

The water and ice on the ship can become contaminated with bacteria or viruses.

Improper Food Storage

Food that is not stored at the correct temperature can become contaminated and cause food poisoning. This can happen if refrigerators or freezers are not functioning properly or if food is left out at room temperature for longer than two hours.

Common Types of Foodborne Illnesses on Cruise Ships

There are several types of foodborne illnesses that are commonly associated with cruise ships. These include:


Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever. It is often spread through contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces.


Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. It is often associated with undercooked poultry or eggs but can also be found in other foods such as vegetables and fruits.

E. coli

E. coli is a type of bacteria that can also cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Infection is often caused by undercooked ground beef but can also be found in other foods such as raw vegetables and fruits.


Listeria is a type of bacteria that can result in fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal issues. It is often linked to foods such as deli meats, soft cheeses, and smoked seafood.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a virus that can cause symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and jaundice. It is often caused by contaminated food or water and can spread quickly in close quarters, such as on a cruise ship.

Legionnaires’ Disease

A severe condition caused by Legionella bacterium that often thrive in warm water, such as hot tubes and large and complex heating and plumbing systems.

These types of illnesses can spread quickly on a cruise ship due to the close proximity of passengers and crew, as well as the handling and preparation of large quantities of food. As a result, washing your hands frequently while on a cruise ship and trying to avoid raw or undercooked foods is vital.