The five-second rule is a universally recognised principle of common sense, which states that if food falls on the floor and is retrieved within five seconds, it can still be safely eaten.
I went to boarding school, so my stomach is immune to most known bacteria and many of the elements found on the periodic table. I am also incredibly lazy, so not only do I abide by the five-second rule, sometimes if food falls to the floor I’ll just slide out of my seat and eat it where it lands.
Even having kids hasn’t dented my faith in the rule. They will happily pick up sausages or sandwiches or chicken bites from the floor and chuck them in their respective gobs. Mind you, they’ll eat fridge magnets and firewood too, if I’m not paying attention.
To date, science has, in general, pooh-poohed the foolish, ill-educated public and our generally held belief in the five-second rule. Recently, however, hope has blossomed like Staphylococcus on pastry with findings by Aston University in England. Trust the English to laugh in the face of food quality.
The university’s School of Life and Health Sciences found that there is minimal bacterial transfer from floor to food within the allotted five seconds, but much more if you leave the food there for 30 seconds or longer. They also found that the amount of bacteria food will attract increases dramatically when the food in question is, and I’m quoting here, “moist”.
To both of these published, expensive, scientifically reached conclusions, allow me to say, “Well, duuuuh.”
The Aston University findings have caused quite a furore within the scientific community (who should probably be putting their combined energies into finding a cure for cancer, rather than arguing about this sort of nonsense), so I decided to take matters into my own hands.
From a sample of 20 carefully selected people who represented a fair cross section of members of my workplace and social group, each of whom answered a questionnaire when they were in a hurry, the findings were relatively conclusive. All bar two (90 percent) admitted that they have adhered to the five-second rule ‘more than once’. That number was cut to nearly half when the word ‘often’ was added, and only two people were brave enough to front up with ‘almost always’. The most significant discovery of my own survey, however, was that the rule’s legitimacy is entirely dependent on situation.
Statistically speaking, almost all of us are OK with the rule as long as three conditions are met:
- It must be your floor.
- The food must be — at least relatively — solid.
- The food retrieved from the floor must be your own.
In other words, it’s fine to scoop up and scarf down a chicken nugget or a piece of toast while standing in your own kitchen. But it’s much less fine to watch the neighbour spill butter chicken all over the floor of the restaurant, drop to the ground, slop it onto your plate and then carry on eating as if nothing has happened.