The 5-Second Rule: Does it Really Work or Is it Just A Myth?

Anantika kapoor  |  Updated: April 18, 2017 12:33 IST

The 5-Second Rule: Does it Really Work or Is it Just A Myth?
  • The five-second food rule is highly debatable
  • Health experts do not really agree with the five-second rule
  • Bacteria can get instantly transferred onto the food items
The five-second rule is highly debatable

What is the five-second rule? In layman's language, if a food item falls on the floor and you pick it up within 5 seconds, it is safe to consume. As bizarre as the idea sounds, Jillian Clarke, at the University of Illinois, actually conducted a scientific study in order to find the truth behind this strange yet very popular advice. She concluded that 70 percent of  the women and 56 percent of men are familiar with the rule and also that women were more likely than men to eat food that has been dropped on the floor.

However, this rule of thumb often raises several questions like 'What kind of food fell?' or 'Where did it fall?'. It requires an individual to use his or her judgment and discretion. This often reduces the validity of the five-second rule about food and it has a highly subjective application. One usually expects a "rule" to have universal application and not change with respect to the situation, but in this case it has been highly debatable.

We asked Nutritionist Dr. Anju Sood from New Delhi to share her opinion about the 5-second-rule. She says, "The contamination level from the ground is extremely high, especially in case of cooked food and hence, I do not believe in this rule or even suggest that you should try it. The food fallen on the ground is not safe to consume as no matter how many seconds later you pick it up, it will become contaminated."Researchers at the Rutgers University in New Jersey also concluded through their study that no matter how fast you pick up the food fallen on the ground, bacteria gets transferred on to it. Hence, they dismiss the five second theory totally. 
chocolateHealth experts do not really agree with the five-second rule

Here are few important facts you must keep in mind with respect to the five seconds rule and decide for yourself. 

1. Floors that appear to be clean and spotless need not necessarily be clean. Microscopic sized germs and bacteria are always present which our eyes may not catch. 

2. The quicker you pick up the fallen item, the better but that does not mean that the food product is absolutely safe to consume. Be it 5 or even 3 seconds, bacteria gets instantly transferred onto the food item.

3. Even if you may be a propagator of the 5-second rule, it is very essential to keep in mind the kind of food that would have fallen and its nature. For instance, one must avoid fallen fruits (without the skin), wet items like a buttered toast and such food items. 

(Also read: The Most Common Culprits of Food Poisoning)breadBacteria gets instantly transferred onto the food item

4. Dry food items like a toffee could always be consumed after washing them with clean drinking water. This reduces the risk of bacteria lasting onto the item. But bear in mind that you can never be sure.

5. Individuals prone to food poisoning must completely avoid consuming food fallen down and should absolutely refrain from following the five seconds rule.

Thus, in conclusion it can be said that making the rule a thumb rule is an individual choice. By taking the aforementioned points into consideration, the usage of the rule becomes highly subjective and would vary from person to person. Several researchers have taken steps to prove its validity and back it up scientifically. However, unfortunately or fortunately most researchers have dismissed it. At the end of the day, it is a matter of your health and it makes complete sense to take all possible preventive measures and be cautious. 


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