MARSHALL - Local fair officials, community event organizers and vendors met Thursday with Minnesota Department of Health officials to learn more about ensuring health and safety at fairs and community events.
Carrie Klumb, an epidemiologist with MDH, presented on health concerns associated with animal exhibits.
"We are trying to form a relationship with petting zoo operators, county fairs, FFA and 4-H groups so we can help each other have a healthy, successful fair," Klumb said. "We are here to help."
Zoonotic diseases that can be transferred between animals and humans are common at many fairs. Salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter and ringworm are just a few diseases that can be contracted from animals.
"Most are self-eliminating infections," said Klumb. "So the main concern is for the young and the elderly."
But Klumb said she doesn't want to scare people away from attending events.
"Animals have germs that can make people sick," Klumb said. "Not that animals are bad, but we want to educate the public."
Klumb pressed that animals at fairs provide an important educational experience where people can "observe animal behavior, see where their food really comes from and experience the human-animal bond."
Klumb also said handwashing is the main focus for prevention as most germs are passed through ingestion and not through the respiratory system; hand to mouth contact is the biggest concern. High-risk items like pacifiers, baby bottles, food and drink should not be brought into areas with animals. Klumb said that the best thing parents can do it to make sure that hands are washed and to "watch your kids when they are interacting with animals."
"Baby chicks and reptiles naturally have salmonella," said Klumb. "(Fairgoers) should wash their hands and avoid mouth to hand contact."
Jessica Kesteloot, owner of Jessica's Little Ponies and Petting Zoo, attended the workshop to learn more about safety and health measures that she can use as a vendor.
"I appreciate understanding how I can better prepare my services to be presented safely to the public," Kesteloot said. "And getting to meet and work with local fair officials and community organizers so we can plan (these) resources together."
Denise Schumacher, a member of the Food, Pools, and Lodging section of the MDH in Marshall, also promoted handwashing as well as wastewater removal and providing safe drinking water.
"It's really about handwashing," Schumacher said. She suggested that food vendors should work with inspectors and fair board officials to ensure that handwashing stations and other health measures are in place.
"We are here to help on the front end to have a safe and fun event, not just be an enforcer," Schumacher said.