Have you ever dropped something on the floor and quickly picked it up saying “5 SECOND RULE!?” You tell yourself that the food is still edible and that within those five seconds the food has still remained salvageable. Personally, whenever I drop something on the floor, I don’t eat it. I sort of just stare at it, looking at the nice piece of food that I now can’t eat. Never though do I pick it up quickly and eat it as if it never fell on the floor. Other people do that though, believing the myth and continuing on with their day as if nothing happened. Although I don’t believe in the “5-Second Rule,” I always wonder whether the rule is real or just a myth. Is the food you just dropped on the floor truly still clean and safe to eat?
This “5-Second Rule” myth has been around for as long as I can remember. After investigating more into this phenomenon, I found an interesting story about Julia Child that sources like CNN(link) claim to contribute to the “5-Second Rule.” PBS describes Child as a well-known cook who brought her skills into the kitchens of homes around America through her shows. According to Paul Dawson, the writer of the article Is there really a five-second rule about food on the floor? the story of Julia Clarke is very unclear. Rumors were spread as to what actually happened, so false information was spread. Dawson describes that during a taping of Child’s show, she dropped the food she was making on the floor and picked it up, proceeding with the show. Apparently Child thought that if no one was around to see it fall, then it didn’t matter if you picked the food up and continued cooking with it. This was the rumor spread, but in reality the CNN article clarifies that Julia Child actually dropped it on the stovetop. Even though that’s the true story, the rumored one still continues to be talked about, further encouraging the myth (Dawson 2016).
With much debate over whether food is still safe to eat within 5 seconds of dropping, Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences in England decided to research into the topic. Scientific American’s Larry Greenemeir (2014) explains that the group found evidence that if you pick up the food faster, it will have less bacteria. But another confounding factor also plays a huge role: the surface in which the food is dropped on. Larry Greenemeir (2014) mentions that Anthony Hilton and his team of researchers at Aston University found that even though the amount of time effects how much bacteria is transferred, bacteria is still spread from the initial touch of the food on the surface. He also found that surfaces like carpets are less likely to transfer bacteria as much as surfaces like tiles. Aston University’s studies also showed us that the type of food determines how much bacteria is transferred. For example, jello is going to obtain much more bacteria than a cracker because jello has a lot more moisture. Greenemeir (2014) mentions that Hilton and his team of researchers also took a poll to determine who actually uses the rule. Hilton and his team found that 81% of males and 64% of females use it. This means that more men tend to think that savoring that piece of food within five seconds is safe (Greenemeir 2014).
The truth behind the “5-Second Rule” leaves everyone curious, especially high school senior Jillian Clarke. In hope to find the answer behind whether one could safety eat something that has fallen on the floor within five seconds, Clarke conducted an experiment. According to Dawson (2016), Jillian swabbed the floors of the college to see if any microorganisms transferred. According to Skarnulis, writer of ‘5-Second Rule’ Rules, Sometimes, Jillian found barely any microorganisms. Even after doing the experiment again- nothing. It seemed as if the floor was too clean to have microorganisms. With much surprise, Jillian moved on and continued to test the rule in a different way. Since that didn’t work, Skarnulis further goes on to explain that Jillian proceeded to test gummy bears and cookies. He explains that she placed them on different types of tiles that had a certain amount of E. coli on them. There, she concluded that the instant the food touches the surface, bacteria is transferred (Skarnulis). What Jillian concluded was that it doesn’t matter how long the food is on the floor. Think of it like this, whenever you go and post something on the internet, the instant you post something you know that you are putting yourself out there. You are making yourself vulnerable, allowing everyone to see you. This is similar to when food touches the ground. The instant the food touches the ground, its vulnerable to all types of bacteria and it doesn’t take long for it to transfer. Given the type of surface and food, and the amount of bacteria on the floor, you may or may not be giving yourself a sickness. According to Dawson (2016), a sickness from food can take up to a week to kick in.
Essentially, no surface is truly clean. Dawson (2016) mentions that at The Art Institute of California, the culinary school teaches the students that even things like the countertop and stovetop contain germs. In the end, what I would take away from this article is that dropping your food on the ground is like Russian Roulette. You need to take into consideration that time is not the only factor that plays a role. Now whether you’ll get sick or not, is also inconsistent and depends on many factors. So is the “5-Second Rule” just a myth?! Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that bacteria is always transferred. No, in the sense that you can eat something picked up off the floor and avoid any sickness. It all depends!!!