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Scientists Are Finally Taking a Stand Against the 'Five-Second Rule'

As part of a new food safety campaign, Australian health officials are warning that you should really stop eating cold cuts off your dirty kitchen floor.
Hilary Pollack
Los Angeles, US

Let's talk about eating food off of your floor.

We're all familiar with the "Five-Second Rule." Oops, you dropped a tub of popcorn and gummy bears all over the floor while you were carrying them from the kitchen to the couch! No prob—you have five long, relaxed seconds to just scoop them back into the bowl and pretend it never happened. As long as you can successfully retrieve them within this parameter of one-twelfth of a minute, they are sparkling clean and undoubtedly safe to eat. Right?

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But then you accidentally let go of a potato chip that has some guacamole on it and watch it splat on your linoleum. When you go to grab it, there are little bits of hair and lint stuck to the avocado chunks. Suddenly, the Five-Second Rule seems a little more questionable. Dark clouds gather. Chaos reigns.

There's some good news, and there's some bad news. Experts have had it up to here with the sweeping assumption that any and all foods are totally fine to eat off of any and all floors as long as they're picked up within a window of five seconds. But there are some exceptions that might be okay. I mean, a hard-shelled chocolate candy is obviously less sticky than a scoop of ice cream. So what's legit and what's not when it comes to terranean foraging?

Earlier this week, in accordance with a food safety campaign aligning with World Health Day, The Daily Mail Australia sought guidance from the Food Safety Information Council. Spokeswoman Rachelle Williams wasn't really keen on the Rule. "There's no such things as a 'five-second rule,'" she told the Mail. "It's a myth; we definitely do not recommend it."

She does note, however, that some foods are safer to eat post-drop than others. The issue is how much bacteria the object can acquire from its time hanging out on your kitchen tiles, and that factor is contingent on the snack's size, texture, and composition. Bacteria absolutely adores moisture—a moist piece of food is its absolute favorite place to grow. Think cold cuts, pieces of fruit, a freestanding glass of unrefrigerated milk, or a bowl of pasta salad.

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If you happen to drop your open-face bologna and pineapple sandwich with extra mayo on the floor, it is highly unadvisable to implement the Five-Second Rule. Just kiss it goodbye (not literally). Williams says that "Any wet food is [considered] potentially hazardous."

But dry foods—i.e., chips, hard candy (that hasn't been wet with your saliva), cookies, crackers, and nuts—are far less prone to becoming bacteria festivals.

RMIT University also released a video this week wherein Dr. Philip Button, a research officer of food technologies at the School of Business IT and logistics, says that the Five-Second Rule is "just wishful thinking, or an excuse not to throw out otherwise good food, but it really doesn't add up." He also warns that viruses and other microorganisms are "everywhere," including your keyboard and phone. Needless to say, they're invisible to the naked eye, which is why your floor might look clean enough, even if someone just stepped on a giant dog turd outside your apartment and then walked through moments before you spilled your bag of macaroons.

In the video, researchers warn to "avoid the risk and let it go."

One out of six Americans is sickened with food poisoning each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and 128,000 are hospitalized. Kind of not worth it for that one piece of licorice.