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Health Concerns Closing Fair Petting Zoos

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – When you head to the fair, there are some guaranteed things you’ll enjoy — the food, carnival games and the livestock.

But one of the longest standing traditions, the petting zoo, is being put out to pasture. County fairs across Minnesota are focusing on the growing problem of E. coli.

Last year, five people who visited the Stearns County fair reported getting sick. The Department of Health ran tests and could not confirm the fair as the source.

“The fair is full of food and full of animals, and the two don’t always go together with the little kids,” said Jackie Spoden-Bolz, with the Stearns County Fair.

The outbreaks are enough to get county fair organizers across the state to think about what to do. A visit to the barn to see baby chicks, ducks and goats doesn’t always translate into getting sick.

The President of the Stearns County Fair, Vern Frericks, says when there has been an outbreak in the last few years, it’s been two to six people in each case.

“And if two people out of 40,000 get sick, you wonder what did they do differently than the rest of the fair goers,” he said.

The Federation of County Fairs, the State Fair Association and the Minnesota Department of Health are urging hand sanitizer and soap and water stations to the barns.

Connivance is the easiest way fairgoers will remember to protect themselves from the bacteria.

The Minnesota State Fair has even added a new handwashing station to the food building as an extra reminder to stay healthy.

Other reminders include: leave your food and drinks outside of the barn and put your children’s pacifiers away.

“I can’t see those agriculture, animal exhibits and livestock in the barns ever going away,” Brienna Schutte with the State Fair said. “That’s kind of the magic of the State Fair — bringing the modern agriculture story to life.”

The Minnesota State Fair had no reported cases of E. coli last year.

Schutte said an independent company looked at their livestock barns and found their practices are consistent in helping keep people safe.

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