Truth Behind 5 Second Rule

Sourav “Teddy” Biswas

When the food we falls on the floor, reflexively, we think to pick it up. Only after picking it up do we introspect the consequences of our action: That wasn’t really on the floor that long, was it? How bad it can be after all? If the process of retrieval is fast, we assume the food is good. Most folks are comfortable eating food after it’s been on the floor. Thanks to the famous “5 Second Rule”, we are confident munching on  food off the floor as long as it gets retrieved within 5 seconds. This rule is now socially accepted everywhere, but recent studies conclude some shocking results.


Photographer: Harkin, Brian. Title: Food dropped on the floor can be contaminated with bacteria instantly, regardless of how fast you pick it up, a study recently concluded. Website: Dated: 19 Oct 2016

In 2007, researchers from Clemson University decided to see how well Salmonella Typhimurium (one of the two major types of salmonella that causes food poisoning), could adhere to bologna and bread after it came in contact with carpet, wood, and tile floors. The results showed that bacteria transferred immediately, and the longer the food stayed on the floor, the more bacteria it picked up. This both proves and disproves the idea of the rule: It shows that even a near-immediate grab doesn’t make the food safe, but it is true that the longer it lays there, the worse things get. Subsequent studies were made in following years by various Universities and all tests conclude the same result.

The real question here is; will eating that food off the floor make us sick or not? We all know bacteria is everywhere; even on the food we eat. Once again, these studies only proves and disproves the rule and not answer questions related to our health. The answer to this particular question depends on some variables.


Photographer: Williams, Greg. Title: Cartoon illustrating the 5 Second Rule. Website: Dated: 28 Oct 2016

The first variable is, what kind of floor we are talking about. Some floors retain more bacteria than others.  Outside our homes, it’s pretty obvious we’re exposed to countless forms of bacteria capable of causing immediate illness. Some studies suggests that objects like cell-phones and cash, carry more germs than a floor, which is transferred via our hands. This concludes the second parameter. Even before hitting the floor, our food might get contaminated due to our poor personal hygiene.

It’s impossible to fully rely on these studies because their experiments were conducted in a controlled environment. None of these proves for certain that the particular floor we’ve dropped our food on is germ free or not. In reality, bacteria can get transferred immediately to the food but, eating it after quick rescue doesn’t actually make us sick most of the time. So we keep doing it.




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