The 5-Second Rule: Friend or Foe?

The 5-Second Rule: Friend or Foe?

Candy cane stuck to carpet

By Lauren Maddahi, MS, Guest Blogger

Imagine you just spent the evening preparing delicious and juicy homemade meatballs for you and your family. As you walk to the dining table, one rolls off the plate and onto the kitchen floor. The ultimate internal mental battle ensues: pick it up and dust it off or reluctantly toss out that piece of hard work? Two studies duke it out to decide if you can put it back like nothing ever happened.

Aston University in England recently released data from a senior project testing the accuracy of the five-second rule. They looked at the bacteria transfer of E. Coli and Staph from three types of indoor flooring (carpet, laminate and tiled) from different foods (toast, sticky sweets, pasta and a biscuit). They found that carpet actually posed the lowest risk for bacteria getting onto your food after 5 seconds. Come again? Yes, you might get other unwanted accoutrements to that meatball (like dust and pet hair), but the bacteria transfer is relatively low. Still, this research has yet to be formally reviewed and published, so we must take the results with a grain of salt.

A few years ago, a peer-reviewed, and therefore more trustworthy, study from Clemson University looked at Salmonella transfer from tile, wood and carpet surfaces to a dropped bologna sandwich. This study also found that carpet transferred the least bacteria to the sandwich. This study conducted a secondary experiment to see just how long bacteria stays around on these surfaces and found that salmonella can survive more than 28 days – talk about overstaying your welcome. Salmonella poisoning is estimated to cause over 1 million illnesses in the United States alone with symptoms like fever, diarrhea and cramps – ouch.

So…Toss or Eat?
In the end, it’s your call whether to save that meatball or not. But, you can reduce your risk of getting a foodborne illness if you follow some simple rules.

  1. Clean and sanitize your food prep areas (kitchen floors, counter tops, cutting boards) before and after cooking to reduce the risk of foodborne bacteria from getting into your body.
  2. Sanitize properly – ¼ teaspoon of bleach for every 4 cups of water, or equal parts distilled white vinegar and water
  3. If in doubt, just throw it out. Your health is not worth the risk!

For more information on foodborne illnesses and how to stay food safe, check out Toby’s past post.

Happy and safe eating, everyone!

Lauren received her Masters of Science in Nutrition Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She also received a Professional Culinary Arts certification from The Center For Kosher Culinary Arts in New York City. She is currently working towards the Registered Dietitian certification. Professionally, Lauren hopes to own her own private practice focusing on prenatal and pediatric nutrition, and mindful eating. You can follow Lauren on instagram @laurenmadd or connect with her professionally via LinkedIn.

  • ridwan
    Posted at 04:45h, 21 October Reply


  • Dampak Anemia
    Posted at 03:42h, 20 November Reply

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