Five second rule fallacy

Bacterial Contamination Can Occur Instantaneously on the Floor

Food dropped on the floor for less than five seconds is safe to eat, right? Wrong. Researchers from Rutgers University put the “Five Second Rule” to the test in a 2016 study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Results are less than appetizing.

Researchers dropped four different foods (watermelon, bread, buttered bread and gummy candies) on four different surfaces (stainless steel, tile, wood and carpet) for four different time periods (less than one second and five, 30 and 300 seconds). Surfaces were contaminated with E. aerogenes, a food-grade bacterium that acts similarly to Salmonella. Though longer contact times did result in more bacterial transfer, some bacteria hopped on to food in less than one second on the floor.

Researchers also found bacterial cross-contamination depends on much more than time. Watermelon had the highest transfer rate regardless of time, likely because it’s moist and has a uniform surface when cut. Carpet was the safest surface, while tile and stainless steel were the worst offenders.

All in all, you’re better safe than sorry when it comes to food safety. The CDC estimates more than 9 million cases of foodborne illness each year in the United States, with surface cross-contamination as a leading risk factor. Reduce your risk of food poisoning by trashing food that hits the ground, washing your hands frequently, rinsing your produce, keeping foods properly refrigerated and using separate cutting boards for produce and raw animal products like fish and chicken.

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