Monday, July 22, 2013

Silversea Silver Shadow Fails CDC Sanitary Inspection - Some Information and Thoughts

The news of the Silversea Silver Shadow failing a CDC inspection was not totally unexpected.  I have waited commenting until I read the Centers for Disease Control report because first hand information is far more reliable.

There is a law firm that spends much of its time going after cruise lines - with very mixed results - that even has an app to "assist" you should you have an issue onboard a cruise ship.  I am not sure that there is any legitimate reason for this law firm to be publishing this information (draw your own conclusions!), but it is probable that without its publicity this situation would not be as widely known...and it should be.  But until I read the CDC report I took the law firm's comments with a grain of salt.

I also want to caution you that a bad report on one ship may well have nothing to do with another ship operating with the same cruise line.  Read on and you will see what I mean.

Note:  I had mentioned in my recent reviews of the Silver Shadow that I was not terribly impressed with the food preparation and, honestly, found some of the actions by staff…including hygiene…to be totally unacceptable.  One example I gave was a bar waiter taking dirty pool towels and then serving drinks, while another was a waiter taking dirty plates from one table to another.  To be sure, those sorts of issues are not aberrations, but signs of systemic poor training and practices.

While onboard the Silver Shadow I observed a number of things in the galley that were not "wrong", but which were not "right" either.  While not apologizing, I must state that my reviews of any ship or cruise line are not to pick them apart, but to give an overall sense of the ship or line.  And while Silversea does much well, clearly there are things that - at least on the Silver Shadow - needs to be done better.

Now having read the Centers for Disease Control published its report today.  There were many violations that were technical (such as not enough light or a dirty condenser grate or the existence of a single fruit fly) and others that were clear signs of a lazy, uninspired, crew ("Why fix it?" mentality).

I thought I would reference some of the most disturbing violations:

Photo from the mentioned law firm's website which has not been verified.
Note the storage of raw fish, cured meats and pastries along with utensils in the same place; not to mention the failure to wrap or cover most of the items.
Violation: An organized effort was made to physically remove over 15 full trolleys of dry foods, spices, canned foods, cooked foods, milk, raw meats, pasteurized eggs, cheeses of all types, baking goods, raw fruits, raw vegetables, and a variety of both hand held and counter model food equipment, pans, dishware and utensils to over 10 individual cabins shared by two or three galley crew members in order to avoid inspection by VSP staff. All the out of temperature potentially hazardous foods were discarded along with most other foods that were not canned or in original containers. The lead VSP inspector poured concentrated chlorine liquid over all the discarded foods as they were dumped into garbage bags to ensure they would not be used again.  

I am at a loss as to how this could have been done without the knowledge and cooperation (or incompetence) of both the Executive Chef and the Hotel Manager.

Violation: There were errors in the cooling process as recorded in the cooling log for potentially hazardous foods found in the walk-in refrigerator. In the initial cooling of tomato sauce, lentil soup, risotto and duck ragout the starting temperature recorded was 110 °F, 120 °F, 100 °F, and 100 °F respectively. It was not clear how long these foods were below the minimum135 °F prior to the start of cooling. In the case of the lentil soup the two hour temperature after cooling was 76 °F and instead of either discarding the food or re-heating to 165 °F the staff continued cooling to the 41 °F point. The small pan of lentil soup in the walk-in refrigerator was discarded. 

You will recall I had commented that we found the food in La Terraza to not be very good in most instances. 

Site: Other-Galley Crew Cabins
Violation: The food temperatures of just some of the many potentially hazardous foods stored in the crew cabins included: numerous cheeses from 50-68 °F, sliced and full pieces of deli meats from 58-63 °F, and raw pork at 47 °F.

Violation: A variety of packaged, unpackaged, covered, uncovered, raw, cooked, and ready-to-eat foods were found stored on the deck, under and on beds of the galley crew cabins from 302 to 326. 

I am at a loss to find anyway to minimize or justify these intentional acts to avoid being caught out.

The Silversea Silver Whisper, the Silver Shadow's sistership, was inspected a month earlier in May 2013 and received a CDC score of 94.  There were a few misses, mostly dust or broken gauges (but the correct temperatures were present) and some yogurt stored at 46 degrees rather than 41 degrees.

OK, so what does this mean to you if you are considering a Silversea cruise?  It means that you need to look at your options, but also remember that many cruise lines have failed inspections and then corrected the problems.  Silversea corrected many of the problems "on the spot", the crew and staff underwent two days of retraining back in June and the various other items have been corrected or are about to be (like revising the menus to put an asterisk by the two missed items regarding undercooked food).

Clearly, as I said, there were training issues on the Silver Shadow.  And I am confident that the training issues are being addressed...and not simply by having two days of training.  V Ships runs Silversea's staffing operation and I have never liked its approach of cheaper labor with insufficient training.  In fact, in March I wrote an article on this very subject:  Aspirations in Luxury Cruising - Is Losing Staff a Good Thing? Maybe Silversea will use this opportunity to see a wake-up call is in order.

What do you think?  Give you opinion at The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.