I can't count how many times I've dropped a piece of food on the floor and then silently thanked whoever soul coined the term, "five-second rule." That mysterious, hangry stranger has justified my questionable eating habits so much, they probably deserve to be the maid of honor at my wedding.
However, just because that silly term has given people like me an excuse to eat food that’s touched the ground, doesn’t mean it should.
Professor Donald W. Schaffner, a food microbiologist at Rutgers University, said that a two-year study he led has finally concluded that it doesn’t matter if you pick up your food from the ground in one second or twenty -- it’s still gonna have bacteria on it.
The findings of the report appeared this month in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal, Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Basically, even though the five-second rule is widely considered a socially acceptable bit of folklore, it still raised public health concerns that were important to investigate.
One of Schaffner’s master’s thesis students, Robyn C. Miranda, dropped four different foods -- bread, buttered bread, cut watermelon and strawberry gummy candy --from a height of five inches onto four different surfaces. The surfaces were stainless steel, ceramic rile, carpet and wood that had been treated with a bacterium with characteristics similar to salmonella.
The research found that food with longer contact times did contain more transferred bacteria, but also that no fallen food escaped contamination.
According to The New York Times, “Bacteria can contaminate instantaneously,” Professor Schaffner said in a news release.
However, the composition of the food and the surface on which it lands likely matters more than the time it spent on the ground.
“I will tell you on the record that I’ve eaten food off the floor,” he admitted, adding: “If I were to drop a piece of watermelon on my relatively clean kitchen floor, I’m telling you, man, it’s going in the compost.”
“We sort of joke about the five-second rule, but people act as if germs take some period of time to race to the item that fell on the floor,” Professor William K. Hallman, an experimental psychologist and a professor at the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, said.
But facts are facts, folks: If you don’t want to risk it, don’t eat food off the floor.