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Experts reveal if the popular '5-second rule' for food is true or not

Everyone swears by the 5-second rule about food falling on the floor. But is it really true? Experts have valuable input
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels| Kool Shooters
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels| Kool Shooters

Everyone has heard of the famous 5-second rule regarding most food products. The rule that is fervently practiced by people across the globe states that if a food item falls to the ground, it can be picked up and eaten within 5 seconds. The basic idea revolving around the same is that germs take time to get in contact with the food and make it harmful to consume. However, there is a science-backed opinion that differs from the same, per Food and Wine. Experts believe that even 5 seconds is too much time for food to get contaminated on the floor.

Representative Image Source: Pexels| Tima Miroshnichenko
Representative Image Source: Pexels| Tima Miroshnichenko

Wendi Lebrett, an Internal Medicine specialist practicing in Los Angeles, suggested that the popular 5-second rule is nothing but a “myth.” She added, “There is no recommended safe time for food to be consumed when it has dropped on the floor.” Functional gastroenterologist Kenneth Brown shared that germs and bacteria can come in contact with food almost immediately after being exposed. There are arguments that the same applies to certain types of food. However, the experts say that no matter what type, every food item is equally vulnerable to germs once on the floor.

Brown mentioned, “Factors such as the type of food, surface and existing microorganisms influence contamination risk, not just time.” He added that food safety is more complex than just a matter of seconds. Another study from Cleveland Clinic pointed out that most food items that fall to the floor are likely to get bacteria attached within 5 seconds. It also highlighted that “the food will pick up bacteria, it’s just a matter of which gastric regret it can offer.” The only way to understand the concept is to figure out what type of food can pick up what bacteria at what time.

Representative Image Source: Pexels| Geraud Pfeiffer
Representative Image Source: Pexels| Geraud Pfeiffer

Other factors include what type of floor the food falls on, the person consuming the same, for instance, a child or an adult, etc. However, Rutgers University experimented with certain food elements for further understanding. They tested different foods with vivid textures. These included watermelon, bread and butter, gummy candy and so on. The study shockingly revealed that food falling on a carpet carries a lesser risk of getting hooked with bacteria than the floor or stainless steel. Another finding was that wetter foods are likely to attach bacteria at a faster rate than other food items.

Interestingly, the study mentioned a piece of baguette can offer a potential salmonella threat within 5 seconds of being exposed to the floor bacteria. Dr. Lebrett added, “Bacteria can transfer onto food the instant it has made contact. The primary concern is the risk of contracting a gastrointestinal infection from bacteria transfer onto the food.” The symptoms and results of consuming such food could range from tummy issues to dehydration and even more serious complications. Dr. Brown stressed, “It's a bit like when a small error in a complex machine throws the whole system off balance.” The final verdict from Dr. Brown then? “Avoid eating anything that has fallen on the floor, regardless of how quickly it is picked up.”