It’s a bummer when you unwrap a piece of chocolate or candy only to have it drop on the floor. Who wouldn’t be tempted to eat it anyway, especially if it only landed on the ground for a few seconds? After all, there’s a “five-second rule,” right? But just because you’ve been hearing this notorious five-second rule for years doesn’t mean you’re actually in the clear when it comes to avoiding germs and bacteria.
Unfortunately, just because popular folklore references the five-second rule doesn’t actually mean it’s true. In fact, research has found that no matter how quickly you pick up food that falls on the floor, you’re still going to pick up bacteria with it, even if it has been on the ground for five seconds or fewer.
“The ‘five-second rule’ is a popular myth that’s been around forever, but unfortunately, no, it’s not a real rule we can follow,” says Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH, medical editor at WebMD. “Eating food that’s fallen to the ground does come with a risk of taking in bacteria known to cause food poisoning. Research shows food will instantaneously pick up bacteria from the surface it lands on.”
One study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology tested a variety of foods on a number of floor surfaces, and it found that no fallen food completely escaped contamination. However, the research did find that the longer the food was left on the floor, the more bacteria it contained, which could help explain how the five-second rule came about. Still, even if your food dropped for just a second, it still puts you at increased risk for food-borne illnesses.
Although the amount of time the food remains on the ground does make a difference, it turns out that the type of floor surface, as well as the composition of the food, matters even more.
When you eat food off the ground, you’re putting yourself at risk for picking up bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella, according to Berkeley Wellness. Both of these bacteria can cause some unpleasant side effects, and they can even sometimes be deadly. When you drop food, it’s important to use your best judgment rather than the five-second rule. Did it fall somewhere that’s in a busy area? Do you clean there often? What type of food is it? And is it really worth saving?
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