I’m sure everyone has heard this at one time or another. Someone drops a piece of food on the floor and someone yells, “Five Second Rule!” The five second rule basically states that if you can retrieve your lost morsel within five seconds, then it will come back to you germ free.
Now that sounds like a pretty good deal, but is it simply a way to rationalize eating something that’s hit the ground? Or is there some scientific evidence to back up this five second rule?
I’m not sure what made everyone believe that there was some magical five second rule which would save your food from bacteria. Maybe the mindset was that the germs took a while to get moving, or maybe they became so excited that the were in shock momentarily before attacking your snack.
But what ever the case, germs have the ability to attach themselves to what ever comes into contact with them immediately, you could wait a fraction of a second or hours and your yummy munchies would be just as germy. But are the germs that your food comes into contact with really a concern? Let’s dig a little deeper into the five second rule and learn some of the history and science behind it.
History of the Five Second Rule
The first known media reference to the five second rule was somewhere around the year 2000, according to my research. But is the five second rule that new of a thing?
Some folks will tell you they’ve been hearing of this “rule” since the 1950s or 1960s, which according to statistics is true. Although it wasn’t very popular among school kids and the like up until the 1990s. Because it wasn’t widely accepted until recent years, it would appear that this concept is quite new.
The Science Behind the Five Second Rule
According to my research, the generation (2000’s) that was raised hearing about this five second rule were in fact the same generation that began testing phases into the theory.
One such great mind was Jillian Clarke, she was a high school intern at the University of Illinois. During her internship in the year 2003, Clarke spent a great deal of time with a five second rule experiment. Her experiment consisted of dropping Gummi Bears and fudge-stripe cookies on a floor that had been swabbed with the virus E. coli.
According to her findings, the virus contaminated the goodies immediately, not after five seconds like the “rule” states. So evidently when food lands directly on the germs, they adhere to each other instantly, thus the contamination begins.
This must have been some pretty ground breaking research, because she won the Ig Nobel Prize for her studies. Since this was getting so much attention, Clarke wasn’t the only tester of the five second rule. There was another team from the Clemson University that followed up on her research and their results showed she was correct.
During one of the Clemson teams studies they dropped a piece of bologna on a germ treated tile floor. The results, 99% of the bacteria had infected the bologna during the first five seconds!
There have been several other testing phases on the five second rule, some of which attempted to debunk these previous findings. Even though some results suggested that the five second rule was in fact valid, this could be for a number of reasons.
If there is no bacteria present on the floor when the food drops, it will not be infected. It’s highly unlikely that someone will be swabbing the floor beneath you with the E. coli virus right before you drop your snack. So the odds of contracting a virus from eating something that’s fallen on the floor are not very high.
But let’s keep in mind, viruses and bacteria are only a small part of what your food may encounter once hitting the floor. Just think about all the other things that may be there, cleaning solutions, insecticides, fecal matter from your pets feet. Not a very pleasant thought.
Conclusion to the Five Second Rule
So what have we learned here… Basically, by dropping food on the floor, picking it up and eating it will not be certain doom. In fact most food items that have been dropped on the floor would be safe to consume even after several minutes of hitting the floor. Now whether or not you want to eat something like that, it’s up to you. In short, there is no such thing as a Five Second Rule…
Tell me what you believe, does the imaginary five second rule make you feel better about eating your favorite treat after a dive bomb to the dirty floor?