Parents upset at U.K. petting zoo and farm visit; dozen kids in hospital with E. coli

In the fall of 1998, I accompanied one of my five daughters on a kindergarten trip to the farm. After petting the animals and touring the crops –I questioned the fresh manure on the strawberries –we were assured that all the food produced was natural. We then returned for unpasteurized apple cider. The host served the cider in a coffee urn, heated, so my concern about it being unpasteurized was abated. I asked: "Did you serve the cider heated because you heard about other outbreaks and were concerned about liability?" She responded, "No. The stuff starts to smell when it’s a few weeks old and heating removes the smell."

I’m all for farm visits, local markets, petting zoos, but I want the operators to have a clue about the dangerous bugs that make people – especially little kids – sick.

The Brits are particularly pissed that Godstone Farm in Surrey, which appears to be the source of 36 E. coli O157 illnesses, including 12 kids in hospital, stayed open as long as it did.

The Telegraph reports this morning,

As many as 18,000 people were allowed to visit the farm, where children are allowed to touch and feed animals including geese, goats and llamas, in the nine days after health protection officials became aware of a possible risk.

A total of 36 people have been taken ill with the potentially lethal bacterial infection including 12 children who are in hospital.

Four of the children are said to be in a serious condition after developing complications such as kidney failure as well as diarrhoea.

Among those being treated in hospital are Tracy Mock’s two-year-old twin sons who visited the attraction on Aug 31 while her five-year-old daughter is also ill.

"If they had just shut the place down to investigate, my sons would not be in hospital on kidney dialysis machines," Miss Mock, from Kent, told the BBC.
"They are still in hospital, my partner and I are taking turns to be there with them. One has had a blood transfusion.

Neil Wilson’s six year-old nephew Tommy contracted E-coli after visiting the farm and is now in hospital in Sidcup suffering from kidney failure.

Mr Wilson said: "I can’t understand why they didn’t shut down that area of the farm until they found out exactly what the problem was.

"I just think they kept it open because it was the school holidays.”

Richard Oatway, the farm’s manager, said he had complied with everything officials had asked him to do and would not reopen until given the all-clear.

Dick, I want to ask you a few questions about verotoxigenic E. coli and ruminants.

Here’s a video about petting zoo safety we did a couple of years ago.