The State Fair of Texas announced that its much-loved petting zoo will return to the fairgrounds this year. The attraction, which had been part of the fair for at least four decades, was axed last year because of insurance restrictions, according to The Dallas Morning News.
State Fair officials changed insurance companies last year, and their new insurer required a higher deductible for petting zoos. Although they tried to work the problem out before opening day, fair officials decided to cancel the Children’s Medical Center Barnyard at the last minute because of the increased cost. This year, the fair has returned to its original insurance broker.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that E. coli triggered outbreaks of illnesses from petting zoos in 2004 and 2005 in North Carolina, Florida and Arizona.
Jeff Bender, an associate professor in veterinary public health at the University of Minnesota, said hand washing is the most important step for preventing transmission of E. coli and other harmful organisms at petting zoos.
Fair officials have decided to push the hygiene issue with visitors. They’re increasing the number of signs and hand-sanitizing stations in both the petting zoo and the livestock areas. No food, drinks or pacifiers will be allowed in the petting zoo, and a public address message will remind visitors every few minutes to clean their hands. Volunteers inside the zoo will repeat the advice, and electronic signs at the fairgrounds will also flash warnings.