The ‘5-Second Rule’ Is No Saving Grace

By Amir Khan on July 19, 2012 11:51 PM EDT

It's happened to everyone -- some food falls off your plate, you pick it up within 5 seconds and continue eating. However, this "5-second rule" is not as safe as people may think, according to new research by the Loyola University Health System. Food that's been on the floor for any amount of time can make you sick, researchers said.

"A dropped item is immediately contaminated and can't really be sanitized," Dr. Jorge Parada, medical director of the infection prevention and control program at Loyola University Health System, said in a statement. "When it comes to folklore, the 'five-second rule' should be replaced with 'When in doubt, throw it out.'"

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Everything that hits the floor picks up germs and dirt, regardless of the amount of time it spends there. What bacteria it picks up depends on where you drop it.

Parada said that it's near impossible to get all of the bacteria off. Even washing will not remove all potentially dangerous bacteria.

"If you rinse off a dropped hot dog you will probably greatly reduce the amount of contamination, but there will still be some amount of unwanted and potentially nonbeneficial bacteria on that hot dog," Parada said. "Maybe the dropped item only picks up 1,000 bacteria, but typically the innoculum, or amount of bacteria that is needed for most people to actually get infected, is 10,000 bacteria - well, then the odds are that no harm will occur. But what if you have a more sensitive system, or you pick up bacteria with a lower infectious dose? Then, you are rolling the dice with your health or that of your loved one."  

Parada likened employing the 5-second rule to being burned.

"The hotter the surface, the easier and worse you will be burned - like the more virulent, or harmful, the bacteria the easier and sicker you may get," he said. "One only has to touch a white-hot surface momentarily to get burned and sometimes it doesn't take a lot of bad bugs for you to get sick. On the other hand, if hold your hand to a less hot surface, but do so for a longer period, the more you will be injured, too."

There are degrees of contamination, however. A potato chip that falls onto a clean table may still be edible. But that same chip falling on the floor should probably be thrown out, he said.  

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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