I Love You, 5-Second Rule: New Research Says Dubious Rule Is Backed by Science!

Please let it be just a phase. Please, for the love of all that is cooked or ordered in, let it just be a phase.

I’m talking, of course, about my toddler’s recent tendency to drop half his meal on the floor. Apparently, Scrunchy Face has made the unilateral decision that my kitchen tiles are lacking a certain je ne sais quoi and that it is his duty to decorate them as he sees fit with chunks of chicken, broken crackers, and dripping wet half-slices of clementines.

Sometimes, I feel a rush of guilt about all the wasted food and snatch it off the floor as quickly as I can, plopping it nonchalantly in my mouth, as if being all cool about it will somehow protect me from the creepy crawly floor-dwelling things that have likely attached themselves to my son’s discarded morsels.

Which is why I welcomed the results of research by a U.K. microbiologist and his students showing that the 5-second rule — the old “If the food drops, but I pick it up quickly, it’s not too dirty to eat” maxim — has some merit.

“Food picked up just a few seconds after being dropped is less likely to contain bacteria than if it is left for longer periods,” Aston University in Birmingham, England announced in a statement about a study from its School of Life and Health Sciences.

The study, led by microbiology professor Anthony Hilton, monitored the transfer of two types of common bacteria, E. coli and Staphylococcus, from different kinds of indoor floor types to toast, pasta, biscuits, and sticky candy.

Hilton warned that while consuming dropped food “still carries an infection risk,” the study’s results “will bring some light relief to those who have been employing the five-second rule for years.”

Yes! That’s me! I’ve been five-seconding it long before I even had kids, back when I was a kid myself and discovered that chocolate that hits the floor STILL tastes like chocolate. Yum!

Hilton and his team found that the moist pasta and the sticky candy tend to collect more bacteria than dry foods, at least when they’re dropped on tiles and laminate floors. But, more importantly, they determined that the bacterial transfer tends to happen more if the food has made contact with the floor for longer than five seconds.

In other words, at least according to research, if my son drops a cracker, and I pick it up right away, I can rest assured that eating it likely won’t transform my mouth into a festive E. coli wonderland — well, assuming my kitchen floor is somewhat clean, that is. (Let’s pretend it is!)

But perhaps the most interesting takeaway is that carpet is the surface least likely to foster bacterial transfer. Researchers found that even when moist foods were dropped on carpet and stayed there for longer periods, there wasn’t much bacteria glomming onto them.

Which leads me to wonder if perhaps I should be dragging my son’s high chair onto a carpeted surface. I suppose it’s a question of what I value more — less germy food or stain-free rugs?

I could also just teach my son to stop dropping his food on the floor.




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