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Let’s Take a Time-Out to Review the Five-Second Rule

Most people have heard about the “five-second” rule, which says that if you drop food on the floor, it’s still OK to eat if you pick it up in less than five seconds. But new research at Rutgers University shows that, depending on the food and the surface, it’s possible for bacterial contamination to occur even quicker than that. As reported by Scientific American, the new findings are something to think about — but not obsess over.

So. How do you know whether what you dropped is OK to eat? The answer is it all depends on how much bacteria is on the floor, what types and whether they’re enough to make you sick. What type of food you’ve dropped, and the composition of it also matters. 

For example, researchers tested five types of food (bread with jam, cooked pasta, ham, a cookie and dried fruit) that were dropped on the floor and left for three, five or 10 seconds. In general, processed foods — those with high salt or sugar content — picked up less bacteria. This included the ham and the bread with jam, which had surprisingly little bacterial growth after touching the floor for three seconds. 

The cookie, with its low water content, also showed little bacterial transfer, even after 10 seconds of exposure. The dried fruit and pasta, on the other hand, picked up klebsiella bacteria after just three seconds. 

Whether you eat that dropped food or not, worrying about what bacteria is on it is a moot point to some extent if it’s already heavily contaminated. And if it’s typical store-bought CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) chicken, there’s a good chance it is. This is another reason why the best thing to do is choose organic, grass fed, pastured beef and meat products. And, even though that processed food didn’t pick up as much bacteria, don’t fall for it, either: Opt for whole, fresh, organic fruits and veggies, and if you drop them, wash them off if you want to eat them.
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