Now, we like milking a cow and petting a goat as much as the next person, particularly when the next person happens to be a grandchild utterly delighted by seeing the animals at the North Carolina State Fair. The animal exhibits are to be sure one of the fairs highlights, and one of its least-expensive highlights at that. (Well get to hand-washing in a minute.)
But an E. coli outbreak last year, wherein 25 people were sickened, some of them severely, alerted fair officials to the need to install some safeguards. E. coli is an animal-borne bacteria, and a potent one. It can make people very ill or even kill them.
For many years, visitors have enjoyed some close contact with animals in the three main livestock buildings at the fair. Strolling through, perhaps trying to educate city youngsters about farm life and animals, parents and grandparents have allowed kids to pet the animals. No one has thought much about it, but last years outbreak of illness has raised awareness and changed rules for the better.
Yes, contact will be restricted, and perhaps visitors wont like that. But Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, himself a farmer, took no chances and had a committee look at the situation extensively. (Really, were still going to talk about hand-washing.)
So instead of going into the Jim Graham Building and strolling into animals pens to pet goats and the like, visitors will walk through the building and get a look...from a distance.
Troxler, for his part, understands that learning about livestock is one of the main attractions and, he thinks, benefits of the fair. These (changes) build on protective measures...and they reduce the risk while maintaining the fairs agricultural heritage. And to me, thats a very important part of the State Fair, the heritage of this fair and the educational aspects...
Other common-sense changes include moving some food vendors who normally set up between a couple of the agricultural buildings to some distance away.
And speaking of common sense, listen up, fair-goers.
Hand-washing, hand-washing, hand-washing, Troxler said. (See, we told you.)
This means that as folks go through the fairgrounds, they ought to take advantage of well-placed hand-washing stations and lather up (or use sanitizer) often. Very often. And it means giving the little ones a frequent hand-washing exercise as well. No, they dont like it much. OK, they hate it, usually. But better a few seconds of complaining than bad sickness.
And lets face it: though parents are always warning their kids when they go to the fair about not touching everything and not continuing to eat that foot long even after its been dropped on the ground, kids surrounded by other kids and games and fireworks at the fairgrounds dont pay much attention to that. Hence the increased importance of sanitation.
North Carolina has one of the best state fairs in the country, from fireworks to funnel cakes, from artwork to roller-coasters. So lets hope people take full advantage of the new safety measures, so they can enjoy the fair without fear of preventable illness.
Which means hand-washing.