5 Second Rule: Is it Safe to Eat Dropped Food?

POSTED: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 11:23am

UPDATED: Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 8:50am

Just about every parent is familiar with "the 5 second rule." If you drop food on the floor, the rule says it's okay to pick it up and eat it as long as it hasn't been there longer than 5 seconds. No big deal right? Or is it?

"If they drop a plate of apples, I don't want to cut a whole new apple. I'll just give it back to them," Utah mom Katie Hydrick said.

Everybody knows it's the 5 second rule, and Hydrick says most of her friends abide by it as well. "If they just dropped it, I think, 'How much dirt could really be on it?'" she said.
We took pacifiers and crackers - two common culprits that go floor to mouth - and tested them on the kitchen floor of Hydrick's home. Sample after sample spent exactly 5 seconds on the floor.

Next, we headed outside to the driveway and went through the same process, as fresh pacifiers and crackers hit the ground. We also tried a spot away from the home - a place where you have little control over the cleanliness. We head to a busy diner at lunch hour and tested the 5 second rule there, but this time we place our pacifiers under the tables and our crackers in a walkway. To find out what is on the ground, and what happens in those 5 seconds, we took our samples to Richards Laboratories in Pleasant Grove, Utah for testing.

"The kitchen was definitely the cleanest," said Daniel O'Brien, technical director at Richards Laboratories.

The crackers dropped on the kitchen floor showed light to moderate amounts of bacteria. The pacifiers showed light amounts of bacteria, along with yeast and mold. On the outside pavement, however, we found more than just bacteria. Heavy amounts of mold and yeast were present on both items.

And what about our busy diner?

There, O'Brien's team found light amounts of bacteria growth on all our samples, and a light amount of yeast and mold on just one of our samples. None of our samples tested positive for serious things like salmonella or strep. In fact, most of what measured was common bacteria - but that could still pose a threat to children.

"Even really common bacteria can make you sick if it catches you in the right condition," O'Brien said.

But the most interesting finding essentially undermines the premise of the 5 second rule.

"5 seconds, 1 second, it's all the same. As long as bacteria is concerned, it's all the same," O'Brien said.

So, while none of our samples contained anything more than common germs, the bottom line is time doesn't matter to bacteria. If you wouldn't feed it to your kids something that's been on the floor for 5 minutes or more, you probably shouldn't go with the 5 second rule either.
 

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