Almost everyone has dropped food on the floor and still wanted to eat it. Some
people apply the "5-second rule." You probably know it — supposedly, food won't
be contaminated with bacteria
if you pick it up off the floor in 5 seconds or less.
So, Is it True?
The 5-second rule has become such a part of our culture that scientists actually
tested it. They found that the "rule" is mostly myth: Bacteria can attach to food
even if you pick it up super fast. So, depending on which types of bacteria happen
to climb on board, you could still get sick.
Here are two facts to consider whenever you feel tempted by the 5-second rule:
A clean-looking floor isn't necessarily clean. A shiny tile floor
is probably cleaner than 1970s-era carpet. But even clean, dry floors can harbor bacteria.
Newly washed floors are only as clean as the tools used to wash them (picture eating
food off the mop in the cafeteria if you need a visual). Even with a brand-new mop
or sponge, stubborn germs can still be on the floor after cleaning.
Fast is better — but it may not be fast enough.
Although a piece of food does pick up more bacteria the longer it's on the floor,
bacteria can attach to it instantly. So any food that hits the floor can get contaminated
if conditions are right. And foods with wet surfaces, like an apple slice, pick up
When in Doubt, Toss It Out
Some bacteria are not harmful. But others can torture you with miserable stuff
like diarrhea. Even if there's no visible
dirt on your food, you can still get sick. You just can't tell what kinds of bacteria
may be lurking on the floor.
So what are you to do with the piece of watermelon that just slipped from your
grip? The safest choice is to throw it out. Or let the dog have it. (And there's another thing
to consider — even the 5-second rule can't get around the fact that
your food may have landed right in a spot where Fido parked his butt.)