The 5 second rule has been considered an urban myth until biology students at Aston University debunked it from myth to reality. The rule is based on the belief that food dropped on the floor will not be contaminated if it is picked up in less than 5 seconds. According to British microbiologist Anthony Hilton, the 5 second rule has validity. The study, conducted by biology students at Aston University in England, discovered that time is of significance in the spread of bacteria such as E. coli. The longer time food is on the floor, the greater the probability of risking contamination.
Interestingly enough, they also discovered that the type of flooring food is dropped on influences contamination. Laminate and tile floors create a larger risk of contamination than carpeted floors. Professor Hilton still admits that there is indeed a risk of contamination from eating food that has made contact with the floor; he does specify that the risk is largely based on the type of bacteria and on the length of time food is in contact with the bacteria. Their findings may bring an extra sense of security to many. In addition to the study, the researchers also conducted a survey in which they found that 87 percent of people have no issues eating food that has been dropped.
Not everyone agrees with the 5 second rule. In 2011, the New York Times published an article in which Dr. Roy M. Gulick of Weill Cornell Medical College states that the time food is on the floor is of no essence. According to Dr. Gulick, bacteria clings to food immediately. There are multiple studies supporting the theory. The one area where both studies came to the same conclusion regarded the type of flooring the food falls on. Risk of contamination is lower on carpeted flooring as compared to wood and tile. The television program Mythbusters also conducted research on the matter. They found that the amount of time food spends on the floor is not relevant; in fact, they discovered that the condition of the floor is a greater factor along with the type of food. Web MD also supports this theory with Ruth Frechman, MA, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, informing that people do not always know the origins of foodborne illnesses given they may have latent reactions which may vary from 24 hours to a week. Therefore an individual that dropped a grilled cheese sandwich on the floor may not show signs of sickness for an entire week, leading them to attribute the foodborne sickness to something entirely different.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that in 2011 over 48 million Americans had a foodborne illness, with 128,000 of those requiring hospitalization, and an estimated 3,000 deaths. The risk is also based on a person’s susceptibility. According to Web MD the most susceptible are children, elders, and those with a weaker immune system. Regardless, it is better safe than sorry. So next time you drop something on the floor, think twice about the validity of the 5 second rule.
Opinion By Dony Lugo