The Truth About the "5-Second Rule"

Did you grow up in a family that observed the '5-second rule"?  If you dropped food on the floor, but picked it up in less than five seconds, it was OK to eat. The 5-second rule was not observed in our house - if it fell on the floor, it was tossed out.  Thank goodness our bodies are made the way they are. because the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs has saved most 5-second rule observers from many an illness.

There’s good science for this view.   It's probably not even safe to follow a 1-second rule: The transfer of bacteria from a contaminated surface to food is almost instantaneous - or, at the very least, quicker than human reflexes. In a recent study, Clemson University food scientist Paul Dawson, and students contaminated several surfaces (ceramic tile, wood flooring, and carpet) with salmonella. They then dropped pieces of bologna and slices of bread on the surfaces for as little as 5 seconds and as long as 60 seconds. After just 5 seconds, both foods had already picked up as many as 1,800 bacteria (more bad bugs adhered to the bologna than the bread. After 60 seconds, it was up to 18,000 bacteria.

There are 76 million cases of foodborne illness annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control - so unless you're the only family on the block that sterilizes your floors hourly, stop eating dropped food. "Let's not forget what comes into contact with floors--people bring animal feces on their shoes into their homes," Dawson said.

And don't assume that countertops are clean. Dawson's team also found that the Salmonella actually survived as long as four weeks on the test surfaces.  Also, never use the dishcloth or a towel for drying dishes to wipe up spills on the floor unless of course you put it in the dirty laundry immediately.

I am a stickler about hand washing; I always have been and always will be. Many potential illnesses can be avoided when washing hands with soap and water.  Children (and adults) should be educated to these good habits:  Hand washing before meals, after using the restroom, after playing outside, after coughing and blowing your nose, before preparing food and after touching food (such as raw meat) to avoid getting sick.

Copyright © Christine Hammerlund – 2010. Christine Hammerlund is a registered nurse and the owner of Assured Healthcare, a healthcare staffing service headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois.