Petting zoos and the fair

The North Carolina State fair is firing up here in Raleigh (the doors open to public on Thursday). I’ve never been to a state fair and am looking forward to participating in this slice of Americana. I’m all over tasting the fair foods like funnel cakes and turkey legs but I’ll probably stay away from the deep fried butter (freeze sticks of butter, cut off 2 tablespoons, put it on a stick, bread it like chicken, and deep fry it).

The fair also brings petting zoo risks. The UK and Vancouver (Canada) have had recent tragic petting zoo stories and over at wormsandgerms Scott Weese detailed some of the things he saw at a recent Ontario event. I’m curious to see what the N.C. State Fair has for risk management tools, and if anyone is using them. 

Laura Hendley, frequent contributor to the foodsafe listserv, wrote a letter to her local paper detailing her praise over what she saw at a Helena (MT) event: 

The Jim Darcy School PTA provided a petting zoo and pony rides at the recent Helena Education Foundation carnival on Sept. 20, at Memorial Park. Located at the exit to the petting zoo were two temporary hand-washing stations set up with potable water jugs filled with warm water, soap, paper towels and catch buckets. There was also hand sanitizer available.

Good stuff, without the tools it’s difficult to practice good hand hygiene.

But just having the tools there might not be enough. Like we’ve seen with norovirus, it’s a good idea to engage the petting zoo target audience (parents and kids) with compelling risk-reduction messages and conduct some sort of evaluation (no matter how crude) to see whether they work.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.