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Feature Article

Should You Follow the Five-Second Rule?

Have you ever dropped a snack on the floor only to grab it, give it a quick blow to dislodge any surface dirt, and continued to eat it? Some foods are too good to waste, but when you consider the amount of bacteria and viruses that cookie now carries, you may change your mind. 

“You absolutely cannot eat food that has dropped on the floor,” said Nancy Bond, RN, infection preventionist at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital. “There is no five-second rule. There’s not even a one-second rule.”

A recent study released by Rutgers University showed that bacteria can transfer to a dropped object in less than one second, although items that were wetter and left on the floor longer picked up the most bacteria.

“Bacteria and viruses are invisible to the naked eye and you have no idea of knowing where they are,” said Bond. “When food is dropped on the floor, it comes into contact with those pathogens which are then transferred into your mouth. The worst offenders are things that are moist or sticky. Those are definitely going to pick up any bacteria that surround it.” 

Bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella and Clostridium Perfringens are common in the environment and easily consumed if proper hygiene is not used. 

“We get sick from foodborne bacteria a lot more often than we realize,” said Bond. “A lot of what people think is a 24-hour flu bug is actually minor food poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 48 million people every year become sick from foodborne illness.” 

So before you eat the cucumber you just dropped at the table, you might consider getting a new slice and saving yourself a tummy ache or trip to urgent care.