Don’t Throw That Away! Does the Five-Second Rule Have Some Validity?

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A food scientist named Paul Dawson recently made the case that the amount of time dropped food can sit on the floor and still be OK to eat is actually zero seconds, not the five (or ten) seconds that some hardy eaters have come to find acceptable for no reason other than they hate tossing away food. And while it’s certainly safer to have a zero-tolerance policy and simply pitch all dropped food immediately into the trash, depending on what you drop and where you drop it, some situations are less risky than others.

A Chicago Tribune blogger rounded up some other research on the subject of dropped food (who knew this was such a hot topic?), and the findings don’t paint a picture that’s entirely black and white, or edible/inedible, dirty/clean if you will. One experiment demonstrated that apple slices were much more likely to pick up bacteria than Skittles when both were dropped on the floor of a college dining hall. Another study reached the conclusion that the five-second rule could have major benefits, including reducing food waste (obviously) and giving a boost to kids’ immunity systems (what doesn’t kill ’em …).

As with so many things, apparently what matters most with the subject of food slipping onto the floor is location, location, location:

It’s OK to brush off the bagel that fell from the stroller onto the sidewalk and give it to your screaming child, for example, because the pavement is cleaner than the kitchen floor in terms of the types of germs that cause illnesses, said Dr. Harley Rotbart, a professor of microbiology and pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

“The kitchen floor, however, is probably a zero-second zone because the bacteria from uncooked meat and chicken juices are more hazardous than the ‘soil’ bacteria outside,” said Rotbart. The bathroom floor is another zero-second zone because “it’s a great potential source of bacteria and shorter-lived viruses that can cause gastrointestinal illness if ingested,” said Rotbart, the author of “Germ Proof Your Kids.”

Yet another argument against eating in the bathroom.