The Coconino County Fair opens this Labor Day Weekend, marking the unofficial end of summer. While a good time is sure to be had by all, there’s something unique about the dynamics of state and county fairs. Where else can you mix grungy amusement rides, livestock, thousands of people, and food? – if you can call a deep fried Twinkie food. It reminds me of the song sung by Templeton the Rat in the animated movie Charlotte’s Web.
Local fairs, with all of the opportunity for microbial growth, give the human immune system an opportunity to demonstrate how effective a system it is. Stomach acid is strong enough to kill many of the microbes that you might ingest if you happen to stick a dirty finger in your mouth or eat a hot dog from a hand that was just before petting one of the chickens. But according to health officials at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), proper hand washing is always the best way to prevent the spread of bacteria and virus.
Our hands are a key way in which we express ourselves, and as such they often make their way around our eyes, nose and mouth allowing any microbes hitchhiking along to enter into our bodies. Would you ever consider licking the back of a hog? Of course you wouldn’t, but in effect that’s just what you do when you handle all of the animals in the petting section and then gobble up handfuls of kettle corn without washing your hands in between. It’s common sense, but it’s easy to overlook this minor detail in the excitement of all of the fair activities.
That’s why it’s always a good rule to wash your hands before eating, whether you are at the fair or not. But also, keeping your hands clean is helpful to the livestock too by preventing the spread of microbes between animals at the fair.
Using plain water to wash your hands is not enough. The reason hand washing works, is that the process of washing removes the oils and proteins that the bacteria and virus are riding on. Water and oil do not mix, so that’s where soap comes in and serves as a surfactant which enables the oils and proteins to be dissolved and washed away by water thereby removing the microbes they contain. This usually takes at least 20 seconds of rubbing your soapy hands together, before rinsing with warm water.
Hand sanitizers can be helpful at the fair, where access to warm water and soap may be difficult. The trick with hand sanitizers is all in the rubbing of your hands during the application of the sanitizer. Follow the product’s directions, which will usually instruct you to continually rub the sanitizer onto all parts of your skin until your skin is no longer wet from the product. The other thing to be aware of is that most hand sanitizers are more effective against bacteria, and less effective against virus.
The most critical times to wash your hands include:
- Before and after eating
- Before caring for young children
- After touching a public surface
- Before and after preparing food, especially raw meat, poultry and seafood
- After using the restroom
- When your hands are visibly dirty
- After touching animals
- When you or someone around you is ill
So wash your hands early and often and have a great time at the fair. Oh, and if you happen to drop that corn dog while you’re trying to eat it, please don’t use the 5 second rule. Go and get another one.