Is The 5-Second Rule True?

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I’m pretty sure you’ve already heard of this popular belief, the 5-second rule, that the food dropped on the floor is safe to eat if you pick it up within 5 seconds. 

You might even have believed at some point that if you pick up food quickly enough, bacteria will not transfer from the floor to the food. 

But is it really true? 

‘5-Second’ Rule Research

In 2007, a food scientist at Clemson University named Paul Dawson conducted research to debunk this rule. Dawson and his team found that bacteria can stick to food as soon as it touches the surface. However, their study focused on how long bacteria can live on surfaces and spread to food.

A group of researchers conducted experiments involving different food types and various conditions. They published their findings in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology in 2016, revealing that the five-second rule is untrue. 

They revealed that the five-second rule is not true and stated the same findings – bacteria can easily attach to food immediately after it falls on the ground. The longer the food stays on a surface, the more bacteria it can accumulate.

A study by Rutgers University discovered three factors that play a big role in transferring bacteria: 

  • moisture
  • surface type
  • duration of food contact with the ground

The study found that certain foods are less likely to be contaminated when dropped on the floor. 

Foods with high moisture content, like watermelon, hold more bacteria than drier foods, such as bread or gummy candy. 

watermelon photograph

The type of surface also plays a huge role. They found that carpet doesn’t transfer bacteria easily compared to tile, stainless steel, and wood, which have higher transfer rates. Sometimes, bacteria can start to transfer in less than one second.

person in blue denim jeans standing on white blue and red area rug

These results emphasize the importance of being mindful of these factors to reduce the risk of contracting a foodborne illness.

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