5 Second Rule: is it REALLY safe to eat?

By Tracy Wright

We’ve all heard about the 5 Second Rule—you know where you drop some food on the floor but if you pick it up within 5 seconds you’d avoid the chance of germs. It sounds good, but is it accurate?

The answer is yes and no; the practice is also far more common than you think. According to a Consumer Reports online poll, 84% of participants said they’ve eaten food that was dropped on the floor for a short period of time, albeit most reserve it for food fallen inside the home. Most of us would likely not anything that’s touched a public floor with the vast array of bacteria, feces and other garbage that may lurk. However, within the confines of our home, what does science say?

According to a 2016 Rutgers University study, “the transfer of bacteria from a contaminated surface to a piece of food can happen almost instantaneously in some cases.” The type of food also matters. A piece of wet food, like an orange slice, typically picks up bacteria more easily than dry food, like a slice of toast, according to Nemours Kids Health.

Types of surfaces are important to consider too. As reported in a study from the Journal of Applied Microbiology, “carpets transfer bacteria to foods at a lower rate compared with surfaces such as ceramic tiles.”

It can be difficult to determine just how clean your floor is. Although you may clean it regularly, there is no way to tell what germs are creeping on the surface. In addition, your floor is likely to be cleaner if you don’t wear shoes indoors and track harmful bacteria in.

Germs that can be transferred from food to floor can lead to E. coli and staph infections, according to Cleveland Clinic. Although it is unlikely you would get very sick from eating an item that has spent 5 seconds or less on the floor, you should consider the floor type, consistency of food and cleanliness of surface. Regardless, remember there is always a chance to get sick, especially for individuals who can be more likely to get sick, like younger children, older adults or people who are immunocompromised.

Harmful bacteria can cause gastrointestinal conditions such as vomiting and diarrhea. And since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 48 million Americans will get sick from a foodborne disease each year, it’s probably better to be safer than sorry.

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