We were wandering through the Wonderopolis kitchen the other day when we heard the following interesting conversation between a couple of mice in the corner:
Mick: Hey Mini! What are you doing?
Mini: Howdy, Mick. It's almost time for lunch. I'm just waiting for the humans to drop something.
Mick: Eww! You're going to eat something off the floor?
Mini: Only as long as I can grab it within five seconds!
Mick: What are you talking about?
Mick: Yuck! I'm going to stick with just eating the cheese off that little piece of exercise equipment in the corner.
Mini: You mean the mouse trap?
Mini: Never mind. Knock yourself out. I'll stay here and wait for some potato chips!
Do you know what Mini was talking about? We're sure you do. We've all been there. You have a plate full of potato chips…or a hot dog…or a pretzel…and your plate tilts and tosses a fine morsel of food right onto the floor.
What are you to do? You're so hungry. If you pick it up quickly — within, for example, five seconds — shouldn't it still be OK to eat? It can't have become contaminated within such a short time, right? Or could it have?
Today's Wonder of the Day takes a closer look at that unique superstition we all know as the five-second rule. By most accounts, the five-second rule holds that food dropped onto the floor is still safe to eat as long as it's retrieved and consumed within five seconds of being dropped. But is there any truth to it? Is dropped food really safe to eat as long as you do so quickly?
Of course, some of you may be asking why we're even talking about this at all. The thought of eating something that has hit the floor is simply unacceptable to many people. The very idea that a stray piece of hair or dirt has attached itself to the dropped food makes it off-limits to many. You can always get another potato chip, right? But others will grab that chip quickly and stuff it into their mouths, often with an accompanying shout of “Five-second rule!"
Since this “rule" is so widespread, we thought it was worth taking a look at whether it had any actual scientific merit…or whether it's just a potentially-dangerous superstition. And we're in good company, since scientists have actually spent some time studying this phenomenon.
Based upon the available scientific research, it appears that the five-second rule is just a myth. Foods dropped onto the floor can quickly become contaminated with germs within a matter of seconds. The longer food remains on the floor, the more germs it's likely to attract.
The surface food falls upon does matter. Clean, dry floors are less likely to have germs than are moist surfaces or carpet. Where the floor is located matters, too. A high-traffic area, such as a hallway, will likely have more germs and dirt than other areas.
Are a few germs a big deal, though? Yes! They definitely can be. Bacteria and viruses can cause all sorts of illnesses. Some of these bad germs, such as E. coli, salmonella, and hepatitis, can lead to life-threatening sickness. Even those food-borne illnesses that aren't life-threatening are still not fun to get.
So, if your food hits the floor, why not play it safe? Just pick it up and put it in the trash. This may be easier to do if the food is broccoli as opposed to chocolate, but your health is important. Don't take a chance. Pitch it and get some more food. No potato chip is worth the risk of a food-borne illness!