Open farms are being reminded to start putting plans in place to manage hygiene over the popular petting farm season.
With the early May bank holiday weekend coming up, together with the extra national holiday for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, many families will be using these breaks to enjoy some of the UK's open farms, and numbers could be greater this year given the poorer weather over Easter.
Running a petting farm and throwing open the farm at lambing time and such-like are great ways for farms to make some much-needed money and tell the wider community about what they do – but there are some important health and safety issues to consider to ensure things run smoothly.
Open farms have a duty of care to ensure that adults and young children visiting their sites enjoy their visit safely by ensuring good hand hygiene after touching farm animals or their surroundings.
Earlier this year, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) warned that outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness (GI) associated with contact with farm animals peak in the spring and summer months, as well as during school holidays when petting farms are also popular.
According to HPA data, between 1992 and 2011 there were 61 outbreaks of GI associated with farm visits – 22 of which happened between 2009-11.
Most were caused by E. coli O157 or cryptosporidium, with a small number caused by salmonella.
These infections are transmitted by direct contact with animals in farm petting and feeding areas, as well as contact with the droppings of animals on contaminated surfaces around farms.Good practice
What can you do to limit the risk?
Risk assessment – assess your current stock. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), current veterinary opinion is that farmers should assume that all ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats and deer) carry E coli O157.
Be aware that new stock, wild birds and animals can introduce E coli O157 to your farm, as can delivery drivers who have visited other farms.
Young stock, stock under stress because of pregnancy, and those unfamiliar with people are more likely to excrete E coli O157. Controlling the risk
While the risk of GI transmission can never be fully controlled, there are a number of measures farms can put in place to manage it effectively.
GI can be transmitted by a number of ways, including contact with animals their saliva or faeces, touching gates or animal pen division equipment, and walking through areas contaminated with faeces.
Things to think about:
Animal contact – decide where visitors should pet and feed animals and which animals will be involved.
Farm areas – eating areas and washing facilities will be key areas of your site where GI can be transmitted.
Ensure that washing facilities are in place at entrances to eating areas so that visitors wash their hands before eating.
Locate eating facilities away from contact areas.
Washing facilities are extremely important and it is vital that they are maintained and replenished with washing liquids and soaps regularly.
Gels and wipes are much less effective than soap and water. Visitors should be reminded of the need to thoroughly wash their hands and to supervise younger children who may not pay such close attention to washing. Information
You can educate visitors to the risks, without scaremongering, by providing hygiene information at various key points around your farm.
"Giving children the opportunity to get close to animals is an important part of their learning and development," explained Phil Grace, liability risk manager at Aviva.
"However, the risks involved can be virtually eliminated by a few simple precautions."
Further reading HSE guidance