Research Finds Truth to ‘5-Second Rule’ on Food Contamination

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It’s a well-known urban myth: pick up food that’s fallen on the ground (or another unclean surface) within five seconds, and no harm no foul; your food is safe to eat. But with so many pathogens and food risks these days, many people question the safety of the 5-second rule. A new study though, might support its efficacy.

The research comes by way of professor of microbiology at Aston University, Anthony Hilton and his final-year biology students who looked specifically at E. coli bacteria and Staphylococcus aureus found in a number of indoor floor types from carpet and laminate to tiles.

The team looked at the transfer of bacteria from floor surface to foods including toast, pasta, biscuits and sweets that had been in contact with the floor from 3 to 30 seconds, reports Food Safety News.

According to the study’s findings, “time is a significant factor in the transfer of bacteria from a floor surface to a piece of food,” notes FSN. “The type of flooring the food has been dropped on has an effect, with bacteria least likely to transfer from carpeted surfaces and most likely to transfer from laminate or tiled surfaces to moist foods making contact for more than five seconds.”

Hilton explained that there is still an infection risk as it depends on the bacteria present on the floor, but “the findings of this study will bring some light relief to those who have been employing the five-second rule for years, despite a general consensus that it is purely a myth,” he said. “We have found evidence that transfer from indoor flooring surfaces is incredibly poor with carpet actually posing the lowest risk of bacterial transfer onto dropped food.”

The team also polled people on whether or not they would consume food that had made contact with the floor. Eighty-seven percent said they would or have done so in the past; 55 percent of those were women and 81 percent of the women follow the five-second rule.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Caro Wallis