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Panel: State Fair not at fault in 2004 E. coli outbreak

Posted December 2, 2011

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— A state panel ruled Friday that North Carolina State Fair officials weren't at fault for an E. coli outbreak that sickened scores of people seven years ago.

Public health officials found 108 likely cases of E. coli among people who had attended the 2004 State Fair. Investigators traced the outbreak to the Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo in Chatham County, which exhibited at the fair, and noted the illness was widespread among children who likely had direct contact with animal manure.

The families of 14 children who became seriously ill sued the state, alleging that officials with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services knew about the E. coli risk but failed to warn fairgoers.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission, which handles tort claims against the state, heard the lawsuit this summer and issued its ruling Friday.

"The greater weight of evidence shows that those responsible for conducting the 2004 North Carolina State Fair exercised reasonable care to keep its premises in a reasonably safe condition for lawful visitors," Deputy Commissioner J. Brad Donovan wrote in the 27-page ruling.

The commission found that hand sanitizer was available at the petting zoo and that the fair posted signs advising people to wash their hands before and after touching the animals. Such protocols were normal for agricultural fairs nationwide at the time, the commission said.

In 2005, state legislators passed a law to prevent children from walking around with the animals in petting zoos and requiring hand-washing stations at such facilities. Fair officials also erected double fencing to keep people out of bedding areas in the petting zoo.

"To complain in retrospect that there should have been additional washing stations or more specific language on the signage is more reflective of the value of hindsight than indicative of negligent conduct on the part of fair operators," the ruling states.

Another E. coli outbreak at this year's State Fair, which sickened 27 people, was traced to a livestock building on the fairgrounds.


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  • quaten Dec 2, 2011

    If it took seven years to come to that conclusion, can we expect an answer to the 2011 outbreak sometime in 2018?

    This seems to be a re-occurring issue. Perhaps we could expect a little better diligence in the future.

    Or maybe in addition to a few signs that suggest attendees wash their hands, maybe we should also wash the animals next year?

  • Screw WrAl Dec 2, 2011

    What then what about the 2011 outbreak?

  • Uhavenoclu Dec 2, 2011

    But they were responsible for me getting sick from all that country music performers junk last time I went.
    They want good music ideas they should go to summerfest in Milwaukee that is the best out of all the fairs.

  • jblake1932 Dec 2, 2011

    7 years later? GIMME A BREAK!

  • UNCfuturealumi Dec 2, 2011

    Thank You!!! Moms, teach your children if you handle manure or even a door knob..chances are high that you can get sick..I think the most unsanitary place is a hospital...so don't blame the fair..take responsibility of your own shortcomings. WASH YOUR HANDS..

  • parichar77 Dec 2, 2011

    I am glad. It is sad that people got sick, but common sense says that you need to wash your hands and take other precautions when around livestock and their waste.

  • WRALMODSSUCK Dec 2, 2011

    Oh my, "But your honor, the fair didn't tell me that I or my children could possibly get E coli by handling the animals, door knobs, etc... where hundreds of thousands of hands have been or to use sanitation wipes or wash our hands before stuffing our faces with expensive fair food! I demand justice sir!"

    For the love of Pete...where is the common sense?!?!?!