5-Second-Rule For Food: It Might Not Be Safe!!


Can You Trust 5-Second-Rule? The Truth Behind 5-Second-Rule

5-second-rule for food safety. The delicious spaghetti that slips off your fork or your favorite ice cream treat that plops on the dining table or that juicy piece of barbeque meat that rolls off your plate on the floor; when this happens, it certainly breaks your heart a bit but thanks to the conventional 5-second-rule, you can gulp it down and never feel guilty!

What is 5-second rule anyway?

When someone drops food on the floor, people say that it’s safe to eat it within in the five seconds. We’ve all heard someone like a chef in a restaurant or your mom on the dining table yell “5-second-rule”. Well, it’s merely a western cultural food safety concept where one can pick up a food that he/she dropped within the 5-seconds and consume it. The logic behind this rule is that there’s no contamination of the food by bacteria or other contaminants for 5 or 3 seconds and is safe to eat.



Is “5-second-rule” Fact or a Folklore?

According to Jorge Parada, MD. Medical Director of The Infection Prevention and Control Program at Loyola University Health System,


“A dropped item (food or cutlery) is immediately contaminated and can’t really be sanitized. When it comes to folklore, the 5-second-rule should be replaced with ‘when in doubt, throw it out.”

I too have salvaged the expensive food, believing the 5-second-rule a couple of times but I do not think that it’s been scientifically proven. Any food that comes into contact with a surface like a floor or a table pick up the bacteria and dirt within in a single second. Nevertheless, the tendency of one getting sick depends upon the number of bacteria and the type of microbe in the food.



For instance, if you immediately rinsed off a strawberry you just dropped on the floor, you will reduce the amount of contamination in a greater number and hence it’s safe to it. This doesn’t mean that it’s void of bacteria. If a person, who’s immuno-compromised, eats the same strawberry then he/she might get sick all of a sudden!5-Second Rule Research

5-second-rule has been followed by almost everyone and it’s been more like a tradition. But scientists and researchers have conducted studies regarding the rule, to prove whether or not we can trust this rule and not keep our health in jeopardy. In 2003, Jillian Clarke of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign found in a survey that 56% of men and 70% of women surveyed, were familiar with the five-second rule.

She also determined that a variety of foods were significantly contaminated by even brief exposure to a tile inoculated with harmful bacteria, E. coli. The germs transferred before five seconds on the tiles as the bacterial culture showed a large number of cells. Also, she found, more people ate dropped cookies and candies off the floor than a dropped broccoli and cauliflower.

So Is it really safe to eat the 5-second-food?

Well, it’s still a bit of dispute among the doctors and the food safety experts. Some say that one should never eat a fallen food directly and recommends washing it first. Ruth Frechman, MA, RD spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association states,


“Bacteria are all over the place, and 10 types, including E. coli, cause foodborne illnesses, such as fever, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms. Foodborne illnesses can have a varying onset, ranging from 24 hours to a week. So, if the food you picked up and ate last Wednesday was responsible for sidelining you over the weekend. You probably wouldn’t even associate the two events”

Again, those on the ‘for’ side state that if the food is dry without any moisture or stickiness, it’s less likely for bacteria to adhere to it and it’s safe to eat. But when we’re talking about a 20-pound steak or a big piece of fish that’s not dry then we cannot bargain.

Furthermore, the dropped item only picks up 1,000 bacteria but typically the inoculum, 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 a bacteria with a lower infectious dose? Then there’s a good chance that you’re putting your health at stake.

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