The rides. The animals. The games. The cotton candy and elephant ears. It’s county fair season and people are coming out in droves to partake in the summer festivities. It is also a time to be cautious of germs and foodborne illnesses that can make us sick.
The animal exhibits are a big attraction for people of all ages. We can get up close and personal with cows, horses, goats, bunnies, chickens, and more; petting and feeding them right from our hands. Unfortunately, this activity has the potential to make us very sick. Animals can carry harmful germs that can pass to humans and cause zoonotic diseases. Illnesses can range from minor skin rashes to serious infections. So what should you do to prevent illness? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some tips:
Wash Your Hands Often If You Visit an Animal Exhibit!
- Find out where handwashing stations are located.
- Always wash your hands right after petting animals or touching anything where the animal is housed.
- Wash your hands when you leave animal areas, even if you did not touch the animals.
- Running water and soap are best. If running water and soap are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Wash your hands with soap and water as soon as a sink is available.
- Learn more about when and how to wash hands.
Eat and Drink Safely
- Keep food and drinks out of animal areas, for example, where they live and eat.
- Food should not be prepared, served, or eaten in areas where animals live and eat (with the exception of service animals, or animals that assist people with disabilities).
- Don’t eat or drink raw (unpasteurized) products made or sold at animal exhibits, including milk, cheese, cider, and juice.
- Don’t share your food with animals, to avoid picking up any germs from the animals and to make sure animals eat the right foods. Animals should eat the food made for them.
- Remember: Wash your hands before preparing food or drinks and before eating and drinking.
Keep Children Safe Around Animals
- Children younger than 5 years always need adult supervision in animal areas.
- Never allow children to put their thumbs, fingers, or objects (for example: pacifiers) in their mouths when they’re around animals or in an animal area, such as an empty livestock barn.
- Encourage and supervise handwashing.
- Do not take or use strollers, bottles, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, or toys into animal areas.
- Children younger than 5 years, people older than 65, and people with weakened immune systems should take special care around animal exhibits. You can find out more about these precautions on CDC’s Healthy Pets Healthy People page for specific groups.
If You Manage or Design an Animal Exhibit
- Design the exhibit to separate animal areas from places where people eat.
- Use signs to point out the areas where people can eat, and the areas for animals.
- Install handwashing stations at exits of animal exhibits. Make sure that some of the handwashing stations are low enough for children to reach.
- Use plain language and pictures to show visitors how to stay safe and healthy when visiting animal exhibits.
Who doesn’t love deep fried funnel cake, loaded chili dogs, greasy fries smothered in cheese, or a giant turkey leg? Most of us stop counting calories when the fair comes to town. While most food vendors practice safe and sanitary food preparation, there is still a chance of getting a foodborne illness. Sometimes the usual safety controls that an indoor kitchen provides, like monitoring of food temperatures, refrigeration, workers trained in food safety, and washing facilities may not be available when cooking and dining at fairs and festivals.
The CDC says that food safety practices should be the same at fairs as they are at restaurants. Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill. Here are some tips for reducing your chances of getting a foodborne illness at the fair:
What should you consider before buying food from a vendor?
- Does the vendor have a clean/tidy workstation?
- Does the vendor have a sink for employees to wash their hands?
- Do the employees wear gloves or use tongs when handling food?
- Does the vendor have refrigeration on site for raw ingredients or pre-cooked foods?
- Has the vendor been inspected? Is a recent inspection report available? Requirements vary by state, but in general temporary and mobile vendors, like those at fairs and carnivals, should have a license to sell food and beverages in a particular state or county for a specific time period. You can check with the local health department to see if the vendors are licensed and if a food inspection has been completed.
Are there healthy food alternatives to consider at fairs and festivals?
When purchasing food from a vendor, look for healthy options first. If they are not available, consider bringing your own food to save money and calories. Bringing food from home allows you to eat a healthy meal or snack as a family, while still enjoying the festive atmosphere around you. Don’t forget to keep safe food storage practices in mind. Always remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
If bringing food from home, what are proper food handling and storage practices?
If you bring food to a fair or festival from home, be sure to keep food handling and storage times in mind. Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours. On a hot day (90°F or higher), reduce this time to one hour. Be sure to put perishable items in a cooler or insulated bag.
What steps can you take to protect you and your family?
Wash Hands Often:
- Find out where hand washing stations are located.
- Always wash your hands right after petting animals, touching the animal enclosure, and exiting animal areas – even if you did not touch an animal.
- Always wash hands after using the restroom, after playing a game or going on a ride, before eating and drinking, before preparing food or drinks, after changing diapers, and after removing soiled clothes or shoes.
- Bring hand sanitizers or disposable wipes in case there aren’t any places to wash your hands.
- Wash your hands with soap and clean running water for at least 20 seconds. Directions for washing hands can be found here.
Anytime you think you may have gotten a foodborne illness, report it to your local health department, even if you have already recovered. The local public health department is an important part of the food safety system. Often, calls from concerned citizens are how outbreaks are first detected. If a public health official contacts you to find out more about an illness you had, your help is important. Information from healthy people can be just as important as information from sick people in public health investigations. Your help may be needed even if you are not sick.
Food Vendors, Community Organizations, and Fair Organizers
Requirements differ by state, but in general temporary and mobile food vendors should apply for a food license with the fair’s state or county health department. Many community-based organizations set up booths to sell various foods at local festivals and fairs too. There are special exceptions, but it is better to be safe than sorry—get a license! Contact information for local and state health departments can be found here.
Fair organizers should try to include a person trained in food safety throughout the planning process, as well as have them present at the fair.
It is important that food safety steps are followed so the food served doesn’t make anyone sick. Try to limit the amount of food preparation preformed off-site, a practice known as cook-serve. Also follow the four basic food safety steps: CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, and CHILL.
Now you’re on your way to a safe and healthy summer!
DHD#10 – Food Service
Public Health Law
Michigan Association for Local Public Health
– Foodborne Illness
– Food Supply Safety
CDC – Stay Healthy at Animal Exhibits
CDC – Food Safety at Fairs and Festivals