Steele County fair, health officials encourage safety at this year's county fair - Blooming MN: News

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Steele County fair, health officials encourage safety at this year's county fair

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Posted: Friday, August 9, 2013 2:13 pm | Updated: 12:21 pm, Mon Aug 12, 2013.

OWATONNA — The Steele County Free Fair is just days away, and with it comes deep-fried food, carnival rides and, yes, germs — a lot of them.

But the Steele County Fair Board and the grounds crew are taking precautions early and advising fairgoers to do the same.

“We haven’t had any incidents at the fair in the past, and I think it is because we take all the necessary precautions,” said Rick Ellingson, director of safety and sanitation with the fair board.

In June, Ellingson attended a health fair workshop that reinforced parents, grandparents and guardians watch children closely in and near barns because of the potential for E. coli, which can be found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals.

“Make sure (children) wash their hands,” Ellingson said. “If they drop food, toys or anything else, either wash it or throw it away.”

He said hand-washing stations, which were provided by Mayo Health Systems, Owatonna, and hand sanitizer dispensers, provided by Allina Hospital in Owatonna, can be found near barns and food areas.

Jane Nyquist, Steele County Public Health educator, recommends fairgoers wash their hands after touching animals, animal pens or barn floors, after going to the bathroom, before eating and after removing shoes that have been in barns.

“You might also consider not drinking water from animal barn faucets and leaving food, beverages, toys, pacifiers or other items that can pick up germs and bacteria outside of the barns,” Nyquist said.

Ellingson said food and strollers are not permitted in the barns, which may put individuals at an increased risk of contracting an illness.

“We are going to put more signs up to continue to make people aware,” he said. “We’re also going to put a few more hand-washing stations out for people to use.”

As an additional precaution, Ellingson said the grounds crew also cleans and disinfects each of the barns prior to the fair.

“We pre-clean (barns) and spray them down with disinfectant above and beyond what the state requires,” he said. “We start the fair with clean barns.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a warning in July cautioning people at high risk of getting the flu — children under 5 years old, people 65 and older, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions — to stay away from swine barns at county fairs.

At the Minnesota State Fair last year, a number of individuals became ill due to the flu strain that is transmitted from sick pigs to people, according to the report.

Ellingson said trained personnel, including farmers, 4-H employees and fair veterinarians are on hand at the fair keeping an eye out for sick animals.

“It goes both ways. Humans can get animals sick, too,” he said. “Once a sick animal is spotted, they are removed from the fair right away.”

Ellingson said the fair has gone very well in the past.

“The public and parents have taken a lot of responsibilities in keeping others safe and healthy,” he said.

Ellingson said all emergency procedures are in place. He said the Owatonna Fire Department and Steele County Sheriff’s Office inspect each of the booths prior to the fair.

There will be first aid available at the Gold Cross station in the Community Building on Elm Avenue, he said.

“If you see anything suspicious, please report it,” Ellingson said. “And to report an emergency, always call 911. It’s the best way to get a response.”

If there is a chance for bad weather, Ellingson said he will be working with Mike Johnson, Owatonna Fire Chief and Steele County Emergency Management director, to notify fairgoers.

“Just think safety this year at the fair,” Ellingson said.

Reach reporter Ashley Stewart at 444-2378 or follow her on @OPPashley

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