OPEN FARM OBLIGATIONS…
If you run an open farm or have open days on your own
farm, how do you ensure that youre meeting all the
current health and hygiene rules? The HSE updated its
advice to farmers in June and these give a practical guide
on how to go about the job
OPEN farms are a big industry these days. More then 10m people visited one in the last year and new ones are being set up all the time. But a high-profile E coli case in February this year has made all concerned look afresh at the current advice available.
It needs to be put in context though. The incidence of ill-health following a farm visit is very low and such visits play a valuable part in the education and development of children. Theyre also a highly enjoyable experience for many people.
How common is E coli?
All animals naturally carry a range of micro-organisms and some of these can be transmitted to humans, thereby causing ill-health. On farms the chief danger is from Escherichia coli 0157 (E coli 0157), which can potentially cause severe disease, especially in young children.
At least 45% of all cattle herds may carry the bacterium and very low numbers of them can cause infection. So its very important for farmers to control the risks to visitors. The same precautions that will prevent the risk of E coli 0157 infection will also control the risks from most other organisms carried by animals that are transmissible to humans by hand-to-mouth contact.
Good general cleanliness around the farm, separating eating and animal contact areas and providing good hand-washing areas are all essential ways of preventing transmission to humans. So is providing information for staff and visitors and proper supervision of both contact with animals and hand-washing.
How do you assess the risk?
Your Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) assessment is the first step in deciding what controls you need.
• Assume that all ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, deer) carry E coli 0157. So do geese.
• There are no live tests that prove that an animal is free of E coli 0157. A negative test does not mean the animal is free of infection or that it will not excrete the organism at a later date.
• The organism can be introduced to your farm at any time by new stock, wild birds and animals or by delivery drivers who have visited other farms.
• Young stock, or stock under stress are more likely to excrete E coli 0157.
• E coli can persist for up to 150 days in the soil and 90 days in cattle faeces
How do you control the risks?
The chief points at which contamination can occur are the following:
• Being in contact with animals in petting areas or during bottle feeding.
• Touching gates or animal pen divisions contaminated with animal faeces.
• Walking through areas contaminated with faeces and later removing footwear.
These in themselves will not cause infection; for that to happen the person must transmit the organism from their hands to their mouth. This chiefly happens by putting contaminated fingers in their mouths, thumb-sucking or nail-biting (all things commonly done by children). Or else by smoking or touching their food with contaminated hands.
The following steps can stop the possibility of this happening:
Whats the best farm layout?
• Route visitors to the washing facilities as they leave any animal contact area, just before they enter eating areas and before leaving the farm.
• Avoid routing visitors across farm tracks regularly used by stock. If this is not possible, make sure that visitors dont have to tread through any build-up of faeces. Scrape and wash down such tracks after each milking or provide duckboards.
• Keep the farm (and in particular the areas where visitors will go) as clean as possible.
How should you organise animal contact areas?
• Decide where you want visitors to be able to pet animals and exclude them from all other areas with good fencing.
• Keep animal contact areas free of faeces and clean and disinfect pen divisions and gates whenever animals are moved in and out of them.
What about eating areas?
Discourage visitors from eating or drinking in animal contact areas.
• Ensure visitors have to pass through the washing facilities before going to eating areas and site eating areas well away from animal contact areas.
• Exclude domesticated fowl, farm dogs etc from eating areas and clear discarded food away to discourage wild birds from feeding.
And washing facilities?
All open farms will need washing facilities. These can be individual basins or troughs or pipes with a number of water outlets. They should be sited at animal contact areas, eating areas and the exit to the premises (visitors can contaminate their hands when removing footwear)
One way of calculating the required capacity of your washing facilities is as follows. Estimate how many people will be in the animal contact area at any one time and at what rate they will leave the area; also assume that it takes 2 minutes to wash ones hands thoroughly. So if you think 30 people will leave the animal contact area every 15 minutes, you need enough washing facilities for four people to wash their hands at one time (30 x 2 divided by 15 = 4). Make similar calculations for other locations around the farm.
• Washing facilities should be at the right height for both adults and children or with raised standing areas for the latter.
• Warm water should be provided but a means of restricting the temperature to about 43C should be fitted to prevent scalding.
• Provide liquid soap and paper or roller towels. Reusable hand-towels are not suitable and hot-air hand-driers can lead to queues and discourage visitors from washing their hands in the first place.
• Clean the facilities at least once a day and ensure that they are well-maintained.
Information and signs
• Notices at all entrances to the premises should remind visitors of the importance of good hygiene, that they eat and drink only in the designated areas and that they wash their hands when leaving animal contact areas, before eating and when leaving the farm.
• Washing facilities should have signs giving full instructions on proper hand-washing.
• Consider leaflets or pre-visit packs to advise of the importance of good hygiene.
Training and supervision
• Staff should be trained on what visitors should or should not do and advised on how best to explain the hygiene message to visitors.
• Provide supervision in animal contact areas and while the children are washing their hands. Although this is primarily the responsibility of parents and teachers, farm staff may need to help in supervising.
• Arrange regular visits from a vet to check on the health of stock, especially for zoonoses like salmonella, cryptosporidiosis, orf or ringworm.
• Assess whether animals are healthy before moving them to contact areas, but remember that animals carrying E coli 0157 do not suffer the ill-effects themselves.
• Do not put animals that have just given birth or been born, into contact areas.
• Remove animals showing signs of ill-health, such as diarrhoea, or stress from contact areas.
• Keep animals clean and in clean conditions.
• Consider whether replacement stock should come from within the farm rather than being bought in.
• Position muck heaps away from areas accessible to visitors.
National Association of Farms for Schools 01978-842277
Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens 0117-923 1800
National Farm Attractions Network 01536-513397
Soil Association 0117-929 0661 *
Visits to open farms play an important part in the education and development of children.
More than 10m
people visited an open farm last year and its an increasingly popular destination for those in search of a pleasant way to
occupy young children.