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Public Health Column for the Times-News

Cotton candy, corn dogs and chickens

Published: Wednesday, September 7, 2016

By KIM HORTON
Times-News Columnist

Every September at the WNC Mountain State Fair, we celebrate agriculture, crafts and tradition indigenous to the people of Western North Carolina. Attendees can watch clogging, gospel singing and ice cream eating contests. The more adventurous will be drawn to the most thrilling rides. Others will simply enjoy blue ribbon competitions in photography, preserved foods, quilting, weaving and more. Kids and adults will wander through the pens of llamas, sheep and goats and will wonder at all the colors and markings of chickens.

Don't forget the cotton candy and corn dogs. Maple cotton candy was always my favorite. It's safe to say that eating is always a big draw at the fair. From sampling barbecue to devouring deep-fried candy bars, you wouldn't want a foodborne illness to ruin a fun day. But how would you know if the food at the fair is safe to eat?

It's reassuring to know that fair food vendors have to comply with North Carolina rules for food establishments. For the WNC Mountain State Fair, a health department food inspector from Buncombe County will have visited each vendor to make sure that all state requirements are being practiced. If all is OK, the vendor will receive a permit, which must be displayed, to sell food and beverages. It might be helpful to think of the permit as a grade card. It’s evidence that the health department has inspected and approved not only the food you're about to eat, but also the food vendor. This is public health, and it's all done to keep you safe.

Vendors who only sell popcorn, peanuts, candy apples, ice cream, funnel cakes, doughnuts or cotton candy are not required to obtain a permit. So it's up to you to keep any eye out for a clean work area and the use of gloves or tongs while handling food. By keeping in mind a few pointers about food safety, you shouldn't experience any tummy aches hours later.

Maybe you're the type to skip the food and rides and head straight for the animal exhibits. Have you wondered if it's safe to touch and pet these creatures? Every year, many people do become sick because of a visit to an animal exhibit. We forget that animals, even those that appear clean and healthy, can sometimes carry germs that are harmful to humans. The germs are shed in animals' feces and easily contaminate their bodies (fur or feathers) and anything in areas where they are held. Many farm animals, including cattle, goats, sheep, swine and poultry can carry germs such as salmonella or E. coli that can make people sick.

Although anyone can get sick from farm animals, some people are more likely to have a serious illness. These include children younger than 5 years of age, adults 65 years of age or older, pregnant women and people with some illnesses (like cancer) that weaken immune systems.

Foodborne illnesses or animal germs are not typically on anyone's radar when planning to attend the fair. Most folks are more interested in the schedule of events and buying tickets. Yet, if you can remember one simple action, you can avoid the possibility of an illness. Washing your hands is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself. Keep these tips in mind:

 

  • Find out where hand washing stations are located.
  • Always wash your hands right after petting animals, touching the animal enclosure and exiting animal areas — even if you did not touch an animal.
  • Always wash hands after using the restroom, after playing a game or going on a ride and before eating and drinking. Keep your food and drinks away from farm animals and out of animal areas.
  • Wash your hands with soap and clean water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Bring hand sanitizers or disposable wipes in case there aren't any places to wash your hands.

After riding the Tilt-A-Whirl, wash your hands. Before you devour that funnel cake, wash your hands. And after you've learned the difference between a cochin and a faverolle, or other chicken breeds, wash your hands. There's too much fun at the fair to risk becoming ill.

To learn more, visit the health department's website hendersoncountync.org/health and select the Staying Healthy at the Fair link.


Kimberly Horton is the communications manager at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

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