December 2, 2023

MN State Fair E. coli Outbreak: Are These Outbreaks Common?

With the announcement yesterday of the MN State Fair E. coli outbreak that has sickened 11 people and hospitalized six, we were wondering how many other state and county fairs have had these serious outbreaks. Are these E. coli. outbreaks common at local, county, and state fairs?

MN State Fair E. coli Outbreak: Are These Outbreaks Common?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. There have been quite a few E. coli outbreaks at state and county fairs over the years, and some have been deadly. These are the state and county fair outbreaks that have occurred since 2012:

  • In 2012, a huge E. coli outbreak linked to the Cleveland County Fair in North Carolina sickened 106 people, including 65 children. Thirteen people were hospitalized in that outbreak, and one child died. Fair organizers banned petting zoos at the event after this outbreak.
  • In 2014, another E. coli outbreak in Minnesota was linked to Zerebko Zoo Tran, a traveling petting zoo that goes from fair to fair during the summer months. At least 13 people were sickened in that outbreak.
  • In 2015, an E. coli outbreak associated with the Oxford County Fair in Maine sickened two children; one child died.
  • Also in 2015, an E. coli outbreak at the Red River Valley Fair in West Fargo, North Dakota sickened three children; one child developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.
  • In 2016, an E. coli outbreak associated with the Washington County Fair in Oregon sickened at least two people.
  • In 2017, an E. coli outbreak at the Mesa County Fair in Grand Junction, Colorado sickened at least eight people.
  • Earlier this year, an E. coli outbreak at the San Diego County Fair sickened 10 people. Three people were hospitalized and one child died.

The commonality in these outbreaks is most likely contact with ruminant animals. Goats and cows can be carriers of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli bacteria. The animals themselves do not get sick, but they shed the pathogen in their feces.

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From there, the bacteria can aerosolize and contaminate a large area where the animals live. The feces can contaminate the animals’ hide, bedding, the ground, fences, and rails. Touch those surfaces, then touch your mouth and you may get sick. It only take 10 E. coli bacteria to make an adult very ill.

This is probably what happened at Dehn’s Pumpkin Patch in Dayton, Minnesota in 2015. At least seven people were sickened with E. coli infections after visiting that venue. The law firm of Pritzker Hageman represented a 10-year-old girl who was seriously sickened after a visit to the farm. She suffered severe kidney damage.

Food Poisoning Bulletin has, over the years, warned parents about the potential dangers of fairs and petting zoos. We have offered tips to keep your family safe, which include through handwashing after a visit to one of these places, watching kids carefully in the zoo, and never bringing food or drink into these venues.

If you choose to visit animals at a fair or go to a petting zoo at a farm attraction, take these factors into consideration and put our tips into practice. We may be able to avoid a repeat of the MN State Fair E. coli outbreak.

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