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Dirty hands to mouth is biggest health risk at festivals and fairs

Food safety inspections & hand washing help you stay healthy while you’re having fun

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. --- Huge blue-and-white umbrellas mark 24 hand washing stations at this year’s Evergreen State Fair, thanks to the food safety folks at Snohomish Health District who want you to stay healthy. You will find the double-basin stations near dining areas, bathrooms, animal exhibits and barns, and food concessions.


 A team of 12 food inspectors checks food booths daily to ensure proper preparation and serving of menu items such as barbecued beef and grilled chicken.


This year special attention is focused on hand hygiene at animal barns because people in the Midwest have gotten sick with a mild kind of swine flu, H3N2v, from handling pigs at county and state fairs. No cases of H3N2v have been reported in Washington state. Another bug to avoid is E. coli, which travels in the feces of animals and can be picked up by petting animals.


To stay on the safe side, visitors and animal attendants are cautioned not to take food or drinks into the animal barns, and to wash or sanitize their hands on leaving the barns.

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water before and after exposure to animals.
  • Never eat or drink in an animal area.
  • Don't take food into animal areas.
  • People in high-risk groups — the very young, the very old and those with underlying diseases — should consider avoiding animal areas.
  • Avoid close contact with pigs that appear ill.

“Wash your hands after contact with animals, after a bathroom visit, after changing a diaper -- and BEFORE eating,” said Rick Zahalka, food program manager at the public health district. “It’s a simple precaution, but keeping those germs out of your mouth is the key to staying healthy.”


Zahalka stressed that parents need to make sure their kids wash their hands in soapy water for at least 15 seconds. “That’s about the time it takes to sing a chorus of ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm,’” he said.


The Snohomish Health District supplies the portable hand washing stations to four of the county’s fairs and festivals every summer. They also invest nearly 600 staff hours to ensure food is prepared and served safely at 30 summertime events. Food vendors are required to provide hand washing for their helpers, for example, one of the critical items checked by Health District inspectors.


The Health District trains about 22,000 food workers every year, and offers classes in English and Spanish. Call 425.339.5260 to hear the class schedule, or visit


Established in 1959, the Snohomish Health District works for a safer and healthier community through disease prevention, health promotion, and protection from environmental threats.