June 20, 2019

E. coli Outbreaks at Fairs Are Fairly Common

High temperatures, lack of hand washing facilities, live animals and food are a risky mix that make E. coli outbreaks at summertime fairs pretty common. The latest example is the Red River Valley Fair in West Fargo, ND.

State Fair FariswheelThree children developed E. coli infections after attending the fair. One of them was hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening complication that develops in about 15 percent of pediatric E. coli cases.

Health officials have not yet determined the source of the contamination. Often it’s a petting zoo or animal exhibit. But a fair official told WDAZ that there was no petting zoo at the fair and that food vendors are not allowed near the animal exhibits.

Contaminated food could also have been the source. “Local fairs often present an opportunity for food sales with sporadic and cursory oversight,” said food safety attorney Ryan Osterholm.

E. coli bacteria live in the intestines of humans and other animals and are shed in their feces. Meat can become contaminated during slaughter and cause illness if it is undercooked.  Produce and other food can be contaminated by an ill food handler who did not adequately wash hands.


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