UK issues handwashing reminder ahead of petting farm season

Sorenne’s school is doing the hatching-chicks-thing in anticipation of Easter (which is a surprisingly big deal in Australia) and I’ve been doing my best Dougie-Downer about handwashing, Salmonella, pestilence and death.

In the northern Hemisphere, this is apparently the start of the petting farm season (didn’t have that one penciled in), so the UK Health Protection Agency is reminding people, especially those with responsibility for young children, to enjoy their farm visits safely by ensuring good hand hygiene after touching farm animals or their surroundings.

Outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness associated with contact with farm animals peak in the spring and summer as this coincides with schools holidays when visits to petting farms tend to be more popular, although outbreaks can occur at other times.

The route of transmission in these illnesses, which include the infections E. coli O157 and Cryptosporidium, is direct contact with animals in petting and feeding areas as well as contact with the droppings of animals on contaminated surfaces around farms.

Dr Bob Adak, head of the gastrointestinal diseases department at the HPA, said, “… hand gels or wipes have their uses in areas that are generally clean, such as offices or hospitals, but they are not effective in completely removing from soiled hands bugs such as E. coli or Cryptosporidium that are commonly found in animal droppings and on contaminated surfaces around farms. This is why washing the hands thoroughly with soap and water is so important – it is the only way to effectively remove the bacteria and reduce the risk of becoming unwell.”

Figures from the HPA’s national surveillance system show that there were 61 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness associated with farms visits between 1992 and 2011. Twenty two of these outbreaks (36 per cent) occurred in the last three years (2009-11).

Around half were caused by E. coli O157 and around half were caused by Cryptosporidium. A handful were caused by Salmonella. Overall 1,238 people were affected in these outbreaks – 1,003 people with Cryptosporidium and 235 with E. coli O157.

A table of petting farm-related outbreaks is available at

We’ll have more to say about this once our research paper, led by Gonzalo, completes the peer review process and gets published.

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About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time