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Distasteful News About The '5-Second Rule'

Spilled candy.
Flickr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Spilled candy.

Lots of otherwise sensible people follow what’s known as the “5 Second Rule.” They believe if they drop food on the floor and pick it up fast enough, the food will avoid contamination from whatever nasty microbes are living and growing down there.

Turns out, they’re wrong. Recently, researchers at Rutgers University conducted experiments proving that food will basically behave like a sponge as it soaks up bacteria.

What varies is the rate at which this happens. In some cases it’s instantaneous. For example, watermelon will absorb bacteria faster than gummy bears. That’s due in part to the moisture content of the food. Scientists expected the surface itself to affect the process, and they were surprised to learn – after 2,560 measurements – that carpeting had a lower “transfer rate” than either tile or stainless steel.

Things got sticky on social media. Adrian Miller, author of “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine,” is a seasoned food pro. He proclaimed on his Facebook page, “This is one of the few times that I’m going to allow science to modify my future behavior.” His friends were divided on the topic. Some referred obliquely to the “Hygiene Hypothesis,” which states that exposure to naturally-occurring dirt and bugs early in our lives can help us build our immune systems. Others held a hard line against eating anything that has made even a passing acquaintance with terra firma.

The Rutgers researchers did not specifically address the “Blow On It to Remove the Germs” corollary.

All joking aside, food-borne diseases can be serious. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 6 Americans – or 48 million – suffer from such an illness each year. Many cases are preventable. People in fragile health should always err on the side of caution.

If the members of your household can’t agree on whether to uphold the old rule or heed the new warnings, there’s one simple solution: Get a dog. While you debate whether or not you should rescue that dropped plate of cake, the dog will take care of the problem. Who knows? He may even leave the floor cleaner than it was to start with. But that’s a separate research study entirely.