By Steve Guntli
Event coordinators for the Northwest Washington Fair are making health and safety a priority following an E. coli outbreak earlier this year.
In April, an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli bacteria was linked to the fairgrounds. More than 1,300 children from around the county visited the Milk Makers Festival at the fairgrounds as part of a field trip. In total, there were 25 confirmed cases of E. coli poisoning. Nine children and one adult were hospitalized, and six people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially life-threatening form of kidney failure. There were no deaths.
Whatcom County Health Department (WCHD) inspectors confirmed in June the outbreak originated in a barn at the fairgrounds. In light of this, Steve VanderYacht, president of the fair’s board of directors, said the fair organizers aren’t taking any chances.
“This year’s focus at the fair is health and safety,” he said. “Through our close consultations with the health department and outside groups, we’ve learned that the surest way to prevent the spread of E. coli is through proper, thorough and frequent hand-washing, so we’re doing everything we can to make sure our visitors have the access and tools necessary to do so.”
E. coli bacteria is transmitted through contact with animal feces, and can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. According to the WCHD, hand washing with soap and water is the most effective way to combat infection.
This year’s fair will feature 24 hand-washing stations, double the amount from last year. Event staff were trained as “hand washing ambassadors” during a special training session on August 12. Hand washing ambassadors will man three of the hand-washing stations to teach proper technique to families and kids. As an extra incentive, kids who visit all three stations earn the chance to win prizes.
Event organizers are consulting with the WCHD to ensure they are doing everything possible to limit any potential E. coli exposure.
The Northwest Washington Fair will be held at the fairgrounds at 1775 Front Street in Lynden Monday–Saturday, August 17–22. For more information, visit nwwafair.com.