The PNE Fair is in full swing, and it promises food, rides and fun for the whole family. But, there’s one thing you shouldn’t walk away with when you leave the fairgrounds this weekend – an illness.

Fairs, farms and petting zoos could be harbouring potentially harmful bacteria, and it has to do with the animal exhibits. There was a recent E. coli outbreak at the San Diego county fair. 

Fun at the fair shouldn’t involve becoming ill, so how do you keep yourself and your children safe?

Donovan Morales knows about animal safety first-hand. He attends Green Chimneys Farm School, where working with animals is part of the nature-focused education curriculum.

His teacher Michael Kaufman, the school’s farm and wildlife director is trying to instill a powerful lesson in his students. Learning about animals also includes learning about cleanliness and safety, which is important for the animals and the people who interact with them.

“Here adults teach kids to appreciate animals to respect animals. It allows kids to transition from being taken care of to being caretakers,” said Kaufman. 

Because it's no secret that kids love animals. But even animals that are healthy and well taken care of can still carry harmful bacteria. 

“I get to learn about animals…I like to look at their astonishing features,” said Anika, a little girl CTV News spoke with at the PNE. She said horses are her favourite animal because “you can ride them, and they’re big and strong.”

“Some of the most common harmful germs people get from animals at exhibits are E. coli, cryptosporidium, and salmonella. But there’s an easy way to keep yourself safe – wash your hands,” said Lisa Gill, Consumer Reports health and medicine investigative reporter.

The CDC recommends washing your hands immediately after touching animals or anything in the area where they live. Even if you don’t touch them it’s still important to wash your hands because the pens and areas where they live can also be contaminated.

“Using running water and soap to wash your hands is always best, but if they are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60-percent alcohol and wash your hands with soap and water as soon as possible,” said Gill. 

To limit exposure to potentially harmful germs, don’t eat or drink around animals and make sure children keep their hands and fingers and other objects out of their mouths when they are around animals. Children also should not sit on the ground or play in the dirt of an animal area.

“The benefits of being outside of working with animals so outweigh those risks and so we teach the kids how to manage those risks,” said Kaufman. “Wash your hands. Don’t put your face in an animal’s face. Be logical about it.”