For the uncultured and confused individuals out there, the “five-second rule” is a shortcut to completely throwing out dropped food. The saying goes that if you dropped food on the ground, and it’s there for less than five seconds, it’s still safe to eat. But why exactly five seconds? Is that too long? Too short?
To answer this, the Viking Voice turns to a study conducted by Jillian Clarke, an intern at the University of Illinois during this time. According to Meredith Agle, a supervisor of this rather obscure study, says that “Jillian swabbed the floors around the University in the lab, hall, dormitory, and cafeteria to see how many organisms we could isolate…We examined the swabs, and there were very few microorganisms. That surprised me. I told her to do it again.” And the results were exactly the same! So does that mean that the five-second rule is actually valid? For once, are we actually going to have a verified myth?!
No. Sorry. Agle, now a doctor, reflects on the experiment: “I think the floors were so clean, from a microbiological point of view, because floors are dry, and most pathogens like salmonella, listeria, or E. coli can’t survive without moisture.” So, since these floors were squeaky clean and dry, no bacterial pathogens were found.
The experiment was tested again. According to WebMD, “To control the study, cookies and gummi bears were placed on both rough and smooth sterile tiles covered with measured amounts of E. Coli.” Five seconds later, both subjects were covered in pathogens.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to be a paranoid individual washing your food every thirty seconds. I know when I drop a precious piece of food on the ground, I typically pick it up. However, just be careful about the surfaces on which your food now lies, and the moisture of your food. It’s been proven that foods with more moisture pick up more bacteria, and wetter floors also attract potentially harmful pathogens.
So don’t cry over spilled food.
Try not to pick it up either.