When livestock and fair food collide: Tips to keep you healthy

When humans are around livestock in casual settings, a potential risk exists for humans to ingest pathogens from manure. As fair season approaches, we review some common practices to keep you from getting sick at the fair.

Your biggest worry regarding fair food should be the calorie count, but it isn’t always. Recently, some high profile E. coli outbreaks from county fairs in other states have brought to light the problems that can occur when you mix livestock in close proximity to fair food. In crude terms, people run the risk of eating manure and getting sick. In some cases, these sicknesses have resulted in long term health problems and even death.

Wash your hands. The single most important thing you can do to decrease the spread of foodborne illness is to thoroughly wash your hands before eating anything, and after touching, handling or petting animals. When hand-washing stations exist, hand sanitizer is not a substitute for washing hands. Soap and water are the best source to reduce the spread of illness. If no hand-washing stations exist, then consider hand sanitizer.

Clean your shoes. After walking through the barns or show arenas, it is very likely that you will have some quantity of manure on your shoes. Pay attention to where you put your shoes. As soon as it is practical, you may wish to clean them.

Watch where you eat. Always choose to eat in an area that is covered and has no visible signs of livestock or other animals. Birds often scavenge in open areas and are not too particular about where they defecate, making open areas somewhat risky. Pay attention to the table tops and seats for signs of animal manure as well and avoid these areas. Eating in the barn – while socially acceptable – is probably not the lowest risk place to eat at the fair from a food safety perspective.

It’s important to have fun at the fair. The goal is to create lasting, positive memories of your fair experience. A nasty hospitalization to recover from food poisoning undermines this. Be safe and eat smart at the fair.

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