UNITED KINGDOWN – If you’ve ever consumed food after dropping it on floor and then wondered what sorts of diseases you might be contracting, here’s a new study that may put your mind at ease (or not). New research out of Aston University in the U.K. finds that there may be some truth to the old wives’ tale, often called the “five second rule,” which suggests that it’s ok to pick up dropped food as long as it’s within a five-second limit. Many people halfheartedly teach their kids this first “rule” of food safety, because, hey, it’s better to risk disease than to waste food.
But take this with a grain of salt. The study doesn’t appear to be peer-reviewed or published anywhere. We need other researchers to have a chance to review these results and then re-do the experiment before we can be sure it’s OK to eat that bagel you just picked up.
For the study, Anthony Hilton, a professor of Microbiology, and his students considered a variety of foods – toast, pasta, cookie, and a sticky candy – to see how much bacteria (E. coli and Staphylococcus) they attracted when allowed contact with the floor. They allowed the food to lie on various types of flooring – carpet, laminate, and tiles – for 3 seconds to 30 seconds.
Not surprisingly, the longer the food was allowed commune with the floor, the more bacteria it accumulated. And the surfaces differed in how likely they were to transfer the bacteria, with carpeting being the least likely, and tiled surfaces and laminate the most likely. “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,” said Hilton in a news release.
The moister the food, the more likely it was to pick up bacteria. Again, an interesting but not surprising result.
But Hilton says to remain cautious. “Consuming food dropped on the floor still carries an infection risk,” said Hilton, “as it very much depends on which bacteria are present on the floor at the time; however 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.”
And if you do pick up dropped food, you’re certainly not alone. The team found that of the people they polled, 87% of people happily consumed fallen foods, and 81% followed the five-second rule. A slight majority of the people who said they would eat dropped food were women (55%).
“Our study showed that a surprisingly large majority of people are happy to consume dropped food, with women the most likely to do so. But they are also more likely to follow the 5 second rule, which our research has shown to be much more than an old wives’ tale.”
Whether scientists have really “proven” the legitimacy of the five-second rule is debatable, so it’s fine to remain a little skeptical. If you’re partial to the practice, use your best guess about the risks: If your food is covered with fuzz after three seconds on the floor, you may just want to move on.