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The 5 second rule! You know, the one we use when we furtively pick up that piece of cookie we just dropped before anyone sees us. And, if anyone does see us, we gleefully shout out, "5 second rule!"

After all, how could scooping up a fallen piece of food in 5 seconds or less actually compromise the safety of eating that delicious little morsel?

Is it just an urban legend? Is there any truth to it? Or should we avoid eating any food that has fallen to the floor or onto any surface?

The 5 Second RuleThe 5 Second Rule


It may be surprising to know a very high percentage of individuals will definitely admit to retrieving a fallen piece of food as quickly as possible and eating it. Especially true if no one is watching. And that includes men as well as women.


Believe it or not, some scientific studies have been done on this seemingly silly subject. However, the results of the studies are mixed and the jury is still out! Here are some general findings:

  1. It does matter what the surface is. Of the 3 most common flooring surfaces--carpet, tile, and laminate--bacterial transfer appears to be less on carpeted surfaces. Of course, if the general environment is kept reasonably clean indoors, it is less likely serious bacterial transfer will take place.
  2. It does matter if the food that has fallen is moist or dry. Bacterial transfer appears to be much faster with moist food than with dry food so it would seem the more quickly moist food is retrieved, the less bacterial transfer will take place. But--is less of a transfer worth the possible risk?
  3. 5 (seconds) may be too high of an estimate. Actually, after a piece of fallen food hits the floor, it can actually take 3 seconds or less for bacteria to transfer to the food.


  1. Staphylococcus aureus
  2. Escherichia coli or E. Coli

Ingestion of either or both can have possible serious consequences on our digestive systems,especially for someone with a compromised immune system.


There are actually many possible reasons to account for this behavior:

  1. Because germs are invisible, some people can make the false assumption that if the food we were enjoying has dropped to the floor, it is all right to eat it after picking it up quickly because of the belief there are no germs present.
  2. A more likely reason may be a misunderstanding of how germs are transmitted. Many people still think it takes some time for germs to 'crawl' or 'race' to a food item that has been dropped.
  3. Most people would never pick up a piece of food that has fallen in a public restroom because we may believe our bathrooms are cleaner. Actually, most public bathrooms are cleaned much more often than the ones in our homes.
  4. Another reason people continue to espouse this rule may be because they have been warned over and over not to waste food.
  5. Many people will tend to blame the last foods they have eaten for any symptoms of food-borne illnesses rather than blame that one piece of food they ate after picking it up quickly from the floor.
  6. Having such as rule can provide a socially acceptable excuse for unsavory behavior. It is much like calling 'shotgun' as you race your way in to the front passenger seat!


Several factors should be considered if one prefers to continue to follow the 5 Second Rule:

  1. A healthy immune system is a necessity.
  2. There is NEVER ZERO RISK to eating food that has dropped onto any surface. The type of surface, the type of food, and the length of time of contact can affect the risk factor. It would be best to use the number 5 as an upper limit and  make sure the food is scooped up as soon as possible.
  3. Remember there are many other places other than the floor that can have even more germs.The handle on your refrigerator and your kitchen counter may harbor more germs than the floor. The toilet flusher, the faucets in the bathroom, and the bathroom sink are crawling with germs you cannot see. How about the bills in your wallet, your cellphone, laptop, and tablet. It would seem prudent to concentrate much more on hand washing than worrying about picking food up off the floor. Remember, if you utensil drops o the floor, contamination is also possible.


5 Second Rule Does Not Apply!5 Second Rule Does Not Apply!

Here is the most important thing to think about when deciding whether or not to follow the 5 Second Rule...

Germs can contaminate a piece of food dropped on the floor in as little as 1 second. But is that enough to cause a food-borne illness that will make you sick?

If the general environment is kept reasonably clean, it is actually unlikely harmful bacteria will be transferred from your floor in just a few seconds. The odds are actually in your favor that you can probably eat that morsel and not get sick.

However, if there is a microorganism that can make you sick on the exact spot where the food dropped, you can be fairly certain that germ is on that food you have just scooped up and are about to put in your mouth.

The more important rule to keep in mind is to make sure you keep your hands, surfaces, and utensils clean.

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ABC Oriental Rug & Carpet Cleaning Co.
130 Cecil Malone Drive Ithaca, NY 14850


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