Advice for good hygiene when visiting a farm, animal attraction or children’s petting zoo, including infection avoidance for pregnant women.
Visiting a farm, animal attraction or petting zoo is lots of fun, but it's important to remember that animals can carry a number of infections that can be harmful to people. Common types of illness include infection with cryptosporidium parvum, e.coli O157 and salmonella.
All of these bacteria live in the gut of the animals. Infections are caused either by touching animals in the petting and feeding areas, or by coming into contact with animal droppings on contaminated surfaces around the farm. These harmful bacteria can get accidentally passed to your mouth by putting hands on faces or fingers in mouths before washing them thoroughly. It only takes a small number of the bacteria to cause infection.
Visiting a farm safely - some dos and don'ts
|Do check that cuts, grazes etc. on children's hands are covered with waterproof dressings.||Don't put hands on faces or fingers in mouths while petting animals or walking round the farm.|
Do wash your hands thoroughly with liquid soap and warm water and dry with paper towels:
|Don't use handrubs or wipes instead of washing hands with liquid soap and warm water. Handrubs and wipes do not remove E. coli O157 in dirt.|
|Do remove and clean boots or shoes that might have become soiled and clean pushchair wheels. Then wash your hands thoroughly with liquid soap and warm water and dry with paper towels.||Don't eat or drink while touching animals or walking round the farm. This includes not eating sweets, crisps or chewing gum.|
|Do supervise children closely to ensure that they wash their hands thoroughly.||Don't kiss farm animals or allow children to put their faces close to animals.|
|Do eat and drink in picnic areas or cafés only.||Don't eat anything that has fallen on the floor.|
|Do avoid contact with sheep and lambs while pregnant (see below).||Don't taste or eat any animal foods or unpasteurised produce, such as milk or cheese.|
Is it safe to visit a farm while pregnant?
If you are pregnant, you may put yourself and their unborn baby at risk of infection if you come into close contact with sheep that have recently given birth, newborn lambs, or other newborn farm animals or new mother animals such as cows or goats. Infections can happen at any time of year, not just in the spring.
Although the number of human pregnancies affected by contact with an infected animal is usually extremely small, it is important that pregnant women are aware of the potential risks and take precautions.
To avoid the possible risk of infection:
- pregnant women should not help ewes, cows or goats to give birth;
- pregnant women should not milk ewes;
- pregnant women should avoid contact with aborted or new-born lambs, calves or kids or with the afterbirth, birthing fluids or materials (e.g. bedding) contaminated by such birth products;
- pregnant women should ensure contacts or partners who have attended lambing ewes or other animals giving birth take appropriate health and hygiene precautions, including the wearing of personal protective equipment and perform good hand hygiene to remove any potential contamination; and
- pregnant women should avoid handling (including washing) clothing, boots or any materials that may have come into contact with animals that have recently given birth, their young or afterbirths. Potentially contaminated clothing should be washed separately from other clothing and will be safe to handle after being washed at the highest temperature recommended by the manufacturer.
NHS Choices have more advice for pregnant women during the lambing season.
More frequently asked questions
If anyone is sick or has diarrhoea within two weeks after a farm visit contact your doctor or call NHS 111 as soon as possible. If anyone, particularly a young child has bloody diarrhoea, seek immediate emergency medical attention.
We are interested to know if you experience sickness and/or diarrhoea after visiting a farm as this may help us to identify problems early, and take steps to prevent more people becoming ill.
If you or a friend or relative becomes ill after visiting a farm or petting zoo, you can contact the environmental health team for your local area on the numbers below. It is likely that they will advise you to visit your GP and submit a faecal sample.
You can also contact the environmental health team for your area if you have general concerns about health and safety at pay-to-enter farm attractions. They will be able to investigate, and provide guidance to the premises to improve standards.
|Local Authority Area||Contact telephone number|
|City of York Council||01904 551525|
|Craven District Council||01756 706258|
|Hambleton District Council||01609 779977|
|Harrogate Borough Council||01423 500600|
|Richmondshire District Council||01748 829100|
|Ryedale District Council||01653 600666|
|Scarborough Borough Council||01723 232514|
|Selby District Council||01757 705101|
Farmers have a responsibility to minimise the risks to pregnant women, including members of their family, the public and professional staff visiting farms. Farmers should consult their vet about suitable vaccination programmes and other disease control measures.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations 2002 require employers to assess risks to health from harmful substances and take steps to prevent or control those risks.
Visit My Farm has useful information for farmers who are considering opening their farm or petting zoo for educational visits by schools.
Our factsheet " Avoiding infection on farm visits (pdf / 920 KB)" includes all the advice on this page for the general public, children, pregnant women and farmers, with environmental health contact details.
You can also see the leaflet "Avoiding infection on farm visits - advice for the public" which contains information from Public Health England.