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What happens to the leftover food from a cruise ship?

Today’s cruise ships are laden with restaurants and cafes. No matter the time of day or night, there’s a whole smorgasbord of food tempting you. And even though there might be 2,000 passengers on board, there’s no way every single morsel can possibly be eaten.

So what happens with all the leftover food once the cruise is over? Does it feed the crew or the fish? Is it served to passengers in the buffet the next day?

Before we get to the answer, let’s first dispel some of the myths.

Myth 1: The crew eats the leftovers.

This is one of those myths that seems to be carried from ship to ship, and it’s simply not true. The crew mess will serve a different (and much cheaper) selection of food to the passenger dining rooms. The only scenario in which they will be serve the same food as passengers is if it didn't leave the galley – in other words, they won’t receive anything passengers have left behind. In fact, any crew member caught nibbling on passenger food without permission can be fired.

Myth 2: Leftover food is donated to charity

While this might be a noble thing to do in theory, there are strict health regulations that prevent cruise ships from donating any leftovers to a shelter, or even reusing them. It’s the same story with restaurants on land too. However, some cruise lines will donate non-food items like soap, shampoo, televisions and cutlery.

Myth 3: Leftover food is served up again the next day

We’re pleased to tell you this myth is not true. Cruise lines have standards to uphold, and much of this comes from the high quality of food they serve at each mealtime.

The truth is…

Once the food has been cooked, no matter whether it hasn't been touched, it must be disposed of. The easiest way for ships to do this is to liquefy the leftover food in an industrial grinder. The food is blended with water until it’s a smooth mixture and then either disposed of in port, incinerated, or pumped out to sea when the ship is deep water and away from the coastlines. Simple as that.

The biggest waste comes from those passengers who order large meals or pick one of everything from the buffet and don’t finish their plate.

But not as much food will go to waste as you think. Cruise ships are highly experienced at working out how much food is required according to the length of cruise and number of passengers. It is highly calculated and in no way random. After all, every piece of waste food is money down the drain.

Food ingredients that haven’t been cooked or prepared and have a longer shelf-life may stay on-board for the next cruise. This might include things like flour, salt and so on.

As a final note – do not take food from the ship when you leave. Many ports, especially in Australia, are extremely strict on what you can and cannot bring into the country.