It is (Kind of) Okay to Eat Food Off the Floor

How many times have you tried to devour that delicious, warm, tantalizing and colourful appetizer, only to have it slip through your fingers and crash upon the ground? Our guess is that this has happened to you at least once, maybe twice – you are human.

After you race down to retrieve that fallen item of tastiness, you hold it in your hands for what seems like an eternity as an internal debate brews: “Should I eat this now, or should I throw it out?”

Many of us have used the powerful, often self-serving five-second rule to make the decision for us. If that piece of food was dropped, then instantaneously picked off the ground, we’ve presumed it safe. If that piece of food bounced at our feet, ricocheted off a chair, before taking a trip beneath the kitchen table, then usually that’s enough of a reason to chuck it out.

Of course, what we’re all trying to do here is avoid germs – since many of us assume it takes longer than five seconds for fallen food to become contaminated. The real question, however, is what do scientists have to say about this?

“The five-second rule is really the 30-second moisture and surface rule,” notes a video taken from the Science Channel program, ‘The Quick and The Curious.’ “When food flops on the floor, a small amount of bacteria will jump aboard immediately. But, moist foods left longer than 30 seconds, collect 10-times the bacteria than if snapped up after only three [seconds.] E. Coli, salmonella and listeria love wet environments – they absorb water for the nutrients they need to grow and multiply.”

In addition to the type of food being eaten (or in this case, dropped) the surface at play is also of the utmost importance.

Continues the clip: “Rugs transfer fewer germs than linoleum, because the little [carpet] tuffs have less surface area touching the food.”

All of that is great to know, but what does that mean for the germ-collection ticking clock in our brains? Is the five-second rule legit?

“Yes! If you drop a cookie on the dry ground, you should have plenty of time [to eat it.]”

The fine print at the end of this video segment reads “For the most part,” leading us to believe that scientists would not approve of a person eating a cookie that was dropped in an oil spill or a can of lead paint.

-Adam Grant

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