Be honest – you’ve done it. You’ve invoked the 5 Second Rule after dropping food so you could rationalize eating it instead of throwing it away, right? If you haven’t, well you’re definitely outnumbered by those of us who have. It’s a universal urban myth that nearly everyone has used at one time or another to either save money or savor one more taste of something too delicious to squander. Whatever the reason, studies have shown that five seconds is more than enough time for a food item to pick up germs. What’s more relevant is actually what type of food is dropped, the surface it land on, and, yes, how long it stays there.
How Reliable Is The 5 Second Rule?
Right off the bat, just as any germs or bacteria on your fingers will transfer to that tortilla chip while you’re dipping it into a bowl of salsa, anything you drop on the table, into the sink, or on the floor will do the same – and in less than five seconds, too. Remember as a child when you were told to wash your hands before eating? That’s the reason. There’s no telling where your hands had been throughout the day so the last thing you needed to be doing was sticking them into your mouth (ok, maybe not directly into your mouth but you know what I mean.)
So we’ve established that germs do indeed transfer from a “dirty” surface to your food in less than five seconds. Now, if your food (or the surface it lands on) is wet, say like a steak or damp counter top, then the bacteria transmission is practically exponential – especially the longer it sits there. THAT’S where time actually does factor into the equation!
In general, it’s not the best idea to snatch a chocolate covered raisin off the floor and pop it into your mouth, but it’s also not the worst decision you could make – especially if you’re not elderly or a small child, and you’re in good health and your immune system is in check. When in doubt, though, toss it out.
Oddly enough the 5 Second Rule always seems to apply to candy, French fries, and potato chips but never for carrots or celery. Hmmm …