This story was published 11 March 2019

Visiting open farms with young children can be great fun, but it’s important to avoid picking up infections. Following a few simple health care steps can reduce the risk.

child on a farm visit

“We’ve got some great open farms in North Yorkshire, and visiting them makes for a fun and educational day out, but the animals people meet can carry a number of infections that are harmful to humans,” said County Councillor Caroline Dickinson, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Public Health, Prevention and Supported Housing.

“You can easily reduce the risk of infection by washing your hands thoroughly with liquid soap and warm running water and drying them with disposable paper towels immediately after you have touched animals (including bottle feeding lambs), fences, or other surfaces around them.

“Please supervise children closely to ensure that they wash their hands thoroughly, too. And do remember – hand gel or wipes are not a substitute for washing hands with warm running water.”

Kathryn Ingold, Consultant in Public Health for North Yorkshire, added: “The bugs that can be picked up during farm visits include E. coli and Salmonella. These bacteria live in the gut of animals, so people can get infected at farms mainly in two ways – either by touching animals in the petting and feeding areas or by coming into contact with animal droppings.

“These harmful bacteria can get accidentally passed to your mouth by putting hands on faces, or fingers in mouths. It only takes a small number of the bacteria to cause infection.  As well as good hand hygiene, there are some simple hints and tips to help avoid unpleasant after-effects from a farm visit.”

These hints and tips are:

  • don’t put hands on faces or fingers in mouths while petting animals or walking round the farm;
  • don’t kiss farm animals or allow children to put their faces close to animals;
  • don’t eat or drink while touching animals or walking round the farm. This includes not eating sweets, crisps or chewing gum. Eat and drink in picnic areas or cafes only;
  • don’t taste or eat any animal foods or unpasteurised produce such as milk or cheese, and don’t eat anything that has fallen on the floor;
  • check that cuts and grazes on children’s hands are covered with waterproof dressings; and
  • 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.

If anyone is sick or has diarrhoea within two weeks after a farm visit, they should contact their GP or call NHS 111 as soon as possible. Children suffering from diarrhoea or vomiting should be kept away from school/nursery until 48 hours after their last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting as, even if they feel well, they are still capable of spreading infection to other individuals.

Public Health England has produced a free leaflet that gives more information about avoiding infection on farm visits.