Cleveland County Fair petting zoo operator says: it wasn’t us

Two-year-old Gage passed away on Oct 12 after acquiring E.coli O157:H7 at the Cleveland Co. fair. There are at least 105 others who have been ill. Most of them kids just like mine. The seriousness of the tragedy and how something like this might happen shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who works with food or animals– farmers, processors, food handlers (commercial or domestic) – or the folks who run petting zoos.

Adding to the frustration is the posturing that is all-too-familiar in an outbreak: one of the players saying “It wasn’t us, we’re sure.” According to the Shelby Star, that’s exactly what Circle G Ranch, petting zoo provider at the Cleveland county fair, is doing.

In the statement, ranch officials expressed condolences to the family of the toddler who died of complications after contracting the illness and to the people who were sickened, but said there was no negligence on the part of the ranch.

“We are absolutely confident that our animals and our ranch had nothing to do with the outbreak,” the press release stated. “None of our animals were infected then, none were infected upon returning from the fair, and none of our animals are infected now.”

According to the ranch, all animals passed a USDA inspection before attending the fair.
“Further, the state of North Carolina requires that all animals crossing the (state) border must have extensive tests and shots to prevent any possible influx of illness into North Carolina,” the release stated.

The statement is pretty empty without providing E. coli O157 sampling data to back it up – Does Circle G have microbiological evidence to back up the statement, “None of our animals were infected then, none were infected upon returning from the fair, and none of our animals are infected now.” The referenced health evaluations don’t look for the human pathogens (which won’t lead to symptoms in the animals) as it’s expected that these animals are carrying and shedding them.

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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.