Food Myth: Five Seconds Rule

Using the five seconds rule to save that tasty treat you dropped is tempting, but dangerous. Within those few seconds you can expose yourself to numerous food-borne illnesses.

The origins of the five-second rule are unknown, but it has definitely caught-on. Jillian Clarke, winner of a 2004 Ig Nobel Prize for health, found that women are more aware and more likely to use the rule (70 percent) than men (56 percent). In a San Diego State University study, 65 percent of parents use the rule with their kids. There’s also a trend in dropped foods. The higher the sugar content the more likely we are to pick it up.

How Bad Can It Be?

With so many believers in the five-second rule, could it really be bad for us?

Clemson University researched the rule using bologna sandwiches, different floor samples (tile, wood and carpet) and salmonella. Within seconds the sandwiches were exposed to 8,000 bacterial cells. And over 99 percent of the germs were transferred from the tile to the sandwiches. In fact, more germs were transferred from the tile and wood than the carpet.

According to the San Diego State University/Clorox study, the floor isn’t the only surface we should be wary of. Using sippy cups and carrots, they tested the amount of germs that can be transferred from surfaces like countertops, highchair trays, tile floors and carpets. And within five seconds, germs were transferred from all the surfaces to the test samples.

Being cautious with dropped foods can save you from foodborne illnesses. It can take eight hours to a week for symptoms to show. These illnesses affect 48 million people a year and though most feel better in a couple of days, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 pass away.

For more tips about dropped foods checked out these Mindful suggestions:

  1. The type of food matters. If you plan to eat dropped food be extra cautious with wet or sticky items like apple slices or peanut butter sandwiches. They pick up more bacteria than dry foods.
  2. The type of floor matters. Research shows that wet or damp floors transfer more bacteria to dropped foods than other floor conditions.
  3. Washing food isn’t good enough. Reports also show that rinsing your food may get rid of some of the bacteria, but not all of them. So, be careful.