3 March 2000

Extra care needed to avoid E coli

OPEN farm owners should consider taking extra measures to minimise the risks and costs of an E coli outbreak, a conference has heard.

Delegates attending the National Farm Attractions Networks annual conference at Stoneleigh, Warks, voiced their dismay following Professor Hugh Penningtons recent call to minimise E coli infections in children by banning under fives from open stock farms.

Most open farm owners were worried that Prof Penningtons view would have a long-term impact on visitor numbers. While they were hoping that parents common sense and increasing scepticism about health scares would prevail, the feeling amongst delegates was to take action now.

Assume you already have E coli on the farm, said one, and only allow small children to have contact with farm animals under very close supervision.

Make sure that children wash their hands properly before eating and discourage children from putting their fingers in animals mouths, suggested another, adding that if children were allowed to eat food as they walked around, the E coli bug would have an easy pathway to the human gut.

Advice unclear

Many delegates felt that advice on limiting infection was unclear.

But one conference speaker, the Health and Safety Executives Mike Sebastian, said that he thought there was no need to change the organisations advice, which was that good hygiene and clear instructions made the danger of catching E coli minimal.

He pointed out that children under five were probably at less risk of contracting E coli 0157 than those in the 4-7 age band who tend to be more inquisitive and less likely to obey instructions from parents and teachers.

The NFU Mutuals Ernie Shepherd warned delegates to check that their insurance cover was sufficient to guard against multi-million £ claims.

The large numbers of farm attractions whose public liability indemnity is for £1m or less need to check their insurance – fast, he said. &#42