Served expired food on my honeymoon cruise – am I owed anything?

2013-12-11 14.39.11Cruise lines aren’t exactly known for their culinary experiences, but Moshe Wealcatch’s story takes the cake, as they say.

Sure, every now and then you have an outstanding meal on a cruise. I’m thinking of Remy on the Disney Dream which was easily the best meal I had all year. But generally speaking, cruise passengers are fed from buffet lines featuring fried food — and lots of it.

One thing you can count on, though, is that the fare is reasonably fresh. But Wealcatch, who honeymooned on the Norwegian Sky with his wife, Shira, says he discovered you can’t even count on that. In keeping with their religious beliefs, the couple made arrangements months before their departure to have kosher meals.

The food wasn’t what they expected.

The pre-packaged meals were in bad shape, they say. One omelet was so dry that it crumbled when he put a fork in it (see photo). Other items were “completely unrecognizable as food,” says Wealcatch.

“Throughout the cruise, because of our hunger, we tried to eat the meals, despite their terrible taste,” he says. “However, as soon as we ate some of it, our stomachs began to grumble and we knew something was wrong with the food since it tasted spoiled. We attempted to eat each meal, but since it was beginning to make us sick, we did not eat much of it.”

Wealcatch says the staff on board tried to help, bringing them fruits, vegetables and salad. The couple didn’t really eat much on their cruise, as a result.

Wealcatch took photos of the meals and noted the caterer’s name on the package. And here’s where it gets interesting.

He contacted the caterer to find out why the food tasted so awful. The caterer said he hadn’t done business with NCL for more than two years, according to Wealcatch.

“After some research on his part, he told us that the food we ate was likely from a batch that was brought aboard the Norwegian Sky two years ago and subsequently was left unrefrigerated and it spoiled,” he says. The caterer said he’d specifically instructed NCL to discard all of their food and that they were no longer allowed to serve it.

“Apparently, NCL is still serving it,” he says. “He wondered how we did not become violently ill after eating the food.”

NCL promises a dining experience on its ships, featuring the best food at sea:

Every cruise fare includes beautifully crafted menus in our two main dining rooms, a help-yourself buffet and a variety of casual cafés, grills and on-the-go choices. From fresh-baked breads, desserts and pastries to our chefs’ original dishes made with the freshest ingredients, your dining can be as fine or fun as you want.

However, its ticket contract — the legal agreement between the company and passenger — specifically says it makes no warranties regarding its food.

So yes, NCL can send you out to sea without food, and technically it owes you nothing.

Spoiled food might be another matter. A ship like the Sky must meet the Centers for Disease Control’s vessel sanitation program standards. One of our researchers noted that the expired food might violate either standard 7.3.1.1.1, which states that food must be in sound condition and unadulterated, or standard 7.3.3.2.1 calling for the separation of recalled foods.

In response to his written complaint, NCL sent him a form letter apologizing for the way he felt and offered him a $100 cruise credit.

“We sincerely apologize for the disappointment caused to you during your dining experience,” the company said. “We do feel a passenger’s dining experiences are an important part of any cruise, and apologize that your expectations were not met.”

Wealcatch expects more, and he wants me to get involved.

Legally, I’m not sure if he has a case. NCL’s adhesion contract is watertight and offers him no room to maneuver. But I see this as a customer-service issue. You can’t send these honeymooners out to sea with nothing to eat.

And no, a two-year-old meal — if that proves to be true — is not kosher.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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