Should You Break the 5-Second Rule?

HEALTH

Supposedly, dropped food is relatively hygienic for about five seconds. Is there any truth to this supposed “rule”? (BBC)

Use our resources to better understand why the five-second rule is . . . misunderstood.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Splat! The mustard is a lost cause, but would you salvage the bologna and bread? Photograph by Rebecca Hale, National Geographic

Splat! The mustard is a lost cause, but would you salvage the bologna and bread?
Photograph by Rebecca Hale, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • What is the “five-second rule”?
    • The five-second rule is an urban legend that contends it takes five seconds for food or utensils dropped on the floor or ground to become contaminated.

 

 

You never want this: Salmonella is one of the most common microbial food-borne diseases. One study found that there was less risk of exposure of salmonella in five seconds than one minute, but the risk was still there. “If there really is a nasty microbe about, sticking to the rule is not going to prevent you from getting sick.” Photograph by Rocky Mountain Laboratories, courtesy National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

You never want this: Salmonella is one of the most common microbial food-borne diseases. One study found that there was less risk of exposure of salmonella in five seconds than one minute, but the risk was still there. “If there really is a nasty microbe about, sticking to the rule is not going to prevent you from getting sick.
Photograph by Rocky Mountain Laboratories, courtesy National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

  • Where might coming into contact with microbes be very unsafe—where would you never want to obey the five-second rule? Use your common sense and the BBC article for some help.
    • doctor’s office, hospital, or other health-care facility
    • portable toilet
    • home, office, or classroom where someone is sick
    • area with poor sanitation facilities

 

  • Where might coming into contact with microbes not be so harmful—where might you want to risk quickly rescuing dropped food? Disclaimer: All content provided in this post is for general information only. It should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health-care professional!
    • In many clean, dry places, contact with the microbial world can actually benefit us, because we have evolved with microbes all around us.
      • One expert says “If there are microbes on that piece of food, it could [therefore] contribute to the development of the healthy immune system. I say go ahead and eat it.”
      • Another expert thinks “even licking your floor or your toilet seat is unlikely to make you sick.”
    • Biologists and anthropologists who study our “gut microbes” like to remind us that “You don’t build an immune system by being a germophobe.

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

BBC: What really happens to food when you drop it on the floor?

Nat Geo: Misunderstood Microbes video

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