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Prairie Fare: Petting Zoos Require Some Food Safety Precautions

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
Petting zoos certainly are fun places to visit at fairs and other summer events.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“I suppose you want a baby goat now,” my husband remarked.

I was with my family at a petting zoo, enjoying the animals as much as my kids were.

A very young brown and white goat had slipped out of his pen and was standing on my foot. He looked pleadingly at me for more of the pet food from the vending machine and quickly nibbled it from my hand.

“Well, he’s pretty cute. Our dogs might not like him, though,” I noted as I fed this little “kid” more of the food.

This little goat probably could have fit in my oversized purse. If I had a goat, he could mow and fertilize our lawn and potentially save us money, I thought to myself. The idea of a pet goat was growing on me.

My three kids were nearby petting a gentle cow and horse. They were giggling as the cow licked its lips after receiving a treat.

“Remember that you need to wash your hands before you eat anything,” I noted. My daughter had a plastic container of cotton candy peeking out of her bag.

They nodded their heads, but I could almost hear them thinking, “yeah, yeah, yeah, Mom.” We each took a generous dollop of alcohol-based sanitizer from the large container at the petting zoo and then washed our hands thoroughly before exiting the zoo.

Petting zoos certainly are fun places to visit at fairs and other summer events. They allow kids to observe and interact directly with farm animals.

Unfortunately, outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 have been associated with petting zoos in the U.S. Infection with this organism often leads to abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea. In severe cases, it can result in kidney failure or death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that many of the E. coli O157:H7 cases involving children younger than age 6 usually result when children stepped in or sat in manure, used a Sippy cup or pacifier while petting the animals and/or sucked their thumbs while in the petting zoo.

As we visit fairs, petting zoos and other outdoor venues with animals to enjoy, keep these tips from the CDC in mind:

  • Follow the directions on the petting zoo signs and supervise children. Listen to and follow any verbal instructions given by the petting zoo workers regarding safety precautions.
  • Keep food and drinks out of the area.
  • Be sure young children do not bring pacifiers, drinking cups or toys with them.
  • Do not allow children to kiss the animals or otherwise have their mouths come in contact with the animals or the pens.
  • Look for the restrooms or hand-washing stations. Wash your hands with soap and running water immediately after visiting the petting zoo. Supervise young children so they wash their hands thoroughly.
  • If a hand-washing station is not readily available, be sure to use plenty of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Keep rubbing until the sanitizer has evaporated. Wash your hands at the first opportunity and always before eating.

When you’re visiting parks, zoos or heading out on a road trip this summer, consider making some snack mix at home. You can substitute your favorite cereal and dried fruit and make your own family favorite.

Easy Snack Mix

2 c. small pretzel twists

1 c. roasted peanuts

1 c. dried cranberries, blueberries or raisins

2 c. Cheerios cereal (or store brand)

1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Divide trail mix into single-serving plastic bags or store in an airtight container.

Makes 14 servings. Each serving has 240 calories, 33 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 11 g of fat and 2 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
Prairie Fare: Prairie Fare: Looking Back on Nutrition and Other Trends in the Last 40 Years  (2019-04-18)  Though nutrition recommendations have changed over the years, moderation is still key.  FULL STORY
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