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E Coli 0157

Cornwall Council’s Public Protection team are reminding owners of petting farms and other animal visitor attractions about how to prevent their visitors falling ill this summer, and reminding the public to take care and wash hands after being in contact with animals.

John Dickinson, Cornwall Council Commercial Food and Safety Officer says: “Farm visits are great fun. They play a valuable part in the education and development of children and young adults and provide an enjoyable experience for many people. However, it is important to remember that a range of infections can be passed on through contact with animals unless care is taken to avoid them. 

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The risk of becoming unwell from illnesses such as E.coli O157 is very low as thousands of people visit such attractions and there are on average only three outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease linked to visits to petting farms every year. The route of infection in these outbreaks is generally through contact with germs from animals. These germs are ingested when people contaminate food they handle or eat or when they put their fingers or other contaminated objects such as dummies or soothers in their mouths”

To reduce the risk of illness, adults and children should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water after they have handled animals or touched surfaces at the farm, and always before eating or drinking.

"Hand-washing is the single most important prevention step in reducing the spread of gastrointestinal infections after handling animals”, explains John; “It is important that attraction owners provide good, well signed hand washing facilities, ideally located at the point where visitors leave the animal contact area. Responsible adults should closely supervise their children when they are petting the animals and washing their hands.”

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has produced two posters for use at such premises; ‘Top tips for farm visitors to stay safe’ and hand washing instructions

Parents planning to take their children to visitor attractions with animals this summer are urged to take particular care with hand-washing and to follow the instructions provided at the attraction. Should anyone fall ill with sickness and diarrhoea after visiting an attraction with animals, they should seek medical advice without delay.

The HPA has produced some top tips for those visiting agricultural shows, petting farms and other animal visitor attractions:

  • Always wash hands with soap and water before eating. This includes snacks such as crisps or fruit. Do not use gels and wipes alone; they do not remove E.coli O157 in dirt.
  • Do not put hands on faces or fingers in mouths while walking in areas where animals are kept.
  • Do not kiss animals or allow children to put their faces close to the animals
  • Do not eat or drink while touching animals or walking around areas where animals are present. This includes eating sweets, crisps or chewing gum
  • Do not eat anything that has fallen on the floor
  • Remove boots and shoes that may have picked up dirt or soil from areas and clean pushchair wheels
  • Supervise children closely to ensure they wash their hands.

Further advice for anyone with a petting farm is available from Cornwall Council’s Public Protection team on 0300 1234 212