New guidelines set by the Department of Agriculture will now require visitors to reach through fences to pet the animals at petting zoos and animal exhibits, and carefully wash their hands afterward, in response to recent E. coli-related outbreaks.
Under the guidelines, the petting zoos at this year’s fair will feature signs warning that contact with animals can spread disease – especially to young children, the elderly, pregnant women and sick people – and encouraging patrons to wash their hands before leaving.
Before, children would sit down in the animal bedding, drop things in the bedding and then put them in their mouths, according to Mary Ann McBride, a department veterinarian who helped develop the new guidelines.
Agriculture officials also will provide the guidelines to anyone operating an animal display or petting zoo and ask that they abide by them, too. That means petting zoos could become less intimate at county fairs, local carnivals and farms, but will be safer for visitors.