Ice cream cone

I was traveling around the far coastline on an island in Indonesia, and stopped at the equivalent of a seaside rest stop for a lunch break. Diving into my box lunch of fried rice, fried plantains and fried chicken, my clumsy nature took hold and I dumped the entire meal into my lap and onto the dirty concrete floor.

FIVE SECOND RULE!” one of my companions screamed. “Don’t waste food,” she continued, “there’s nothing wrong with it if you pick it up and eat it now!”

I, however, failed to lunge at the rice dish scattered all over the floor, and instead received dirty looks from my eco-conscious crew for wasting precious resources. Nevermind the fact that it was me who was out of a lunch.

“The Five Second Rule is bullsh*t!” I yelled, but no one believed me.

Until now.

Thanks to a recent study by the BBC, scientists have proved that no matter how quickly you pick up dropped food off the floor, it can easily be contaminated if germs are present. This is quite contrary to the “Five Second Rule” (also known as the Fifteen Second Rule), which ascertains that food cannot pick up bacteria or other germs on the floor if it removed within a matter of seconds. However well known, this bit of folk wisdom appears to be completely wrong.

Scientists tested pieces of pizza, apple and toast dropped on different surfaces for five seconds each: the kitchen floor, the street and a carpet. After putting the specimens on a culture plate and incubating them, each piece of food was completely contaminated with bacteria, including fecal bacteria, and growing new life. What’s more, even food that was picked up immediately off the floor in zero seconds showed to be contaminated.

These findings are of particular concern to parents, because children often enjoy tossing bits of food and entire meals into the air and onto the ground. Must this food be thrown away? What if you blow all the visible dirt off? Whether you can see germs or not, they can be there, and when you are dealing with the weaker immune systems of an infant, child or senior, erring on the side of caution is probably a good idea.

Despite numerous studies that show the contrary, the legend of the Five Second Rule persists. Some say that the Five Second Rule serves a social function, bending the normal rules of behavior about eating food off the floor to allow people to eat. When two accepted concepts come into competition in the human brain (don’t eat off the floor and don’t waste food), the mind often does acrobatics to create a logical explanation where everyone can be happy. Hence: the Five Second Rule.

All cognitive dissonances aside, just remember, before you pop that dropped tidbit of food into your mouth, that salmonella can live for 28 days in dry conditions on wood, tiles and nylon carpet. Delicious!

Image: Jen Gallardo