The wildly popular YouTube science series Vsauce has a wake-up call for kitchen klutzes who put their faith in the 5-second rule.
You know the one: the freshly buttered piece of toast slips off your plate and falls to the floor.
The floor looks clean. It landed buttered-side up. The dog didn’t lick it.
Looks fine to me!
It’s time to invoke the 5-second rule, the polite fiction we like to believe that says if we are quick enough, we can still eat food that’s hit the floor. We pick it up, scrutinize it, maybe brush it off or blow on it, and tell ourselves that a few seconds isn’t enough time for contamination to occur; and proceed to eat it.
Surveys have shown that most of us abide by the rule at least some of the time: 50% of men and 70% of women invoke it on an as-needed basis. Parents of young children are the most ardent practitioners, constantly popping dropped bottles, pacifiers, and snacks into the mouths of their precious offspring.
The Vsauce video will have you rethinking the rule.
The fact is your dropped toast attracted plenty of floor bacteria in the very first fraction of a millisecond of contact. Five seconds in and somewhere between 150 and 8,000 bacteria are clinging to its surface. Just how much nastiness gets scooped up depends mostly on the moisture content and surface geometry of the toast, and on the condition of the floor. Time is a factor—after a minute the bacteria level can go up ten-fold—but with so much instant contamination, it’s hardly worth quibbling over the extra seconds.
Vsauce gives the 5-second rule a seriously unappetizing debunking.
We learn that salmonella can live for days on even a clean and dry kitchen floor, and that fewer than a dozen salmonella microbes can give you headaches, diarrhea, and vomiting. Nastier still is this tidbit: 93 percent of shoes have fecal material on them.
And trust me, nothing beats video for vivid, stomach-churning presentation.
Maybe it’s time for a new 5-second rule.
Next time you drop something, take those 5 seconds to reflect on the squirming microbes and poopy shoes you saw in the video. At the end of those five seconds, decide if it’s still worth eating.
Sadly, even if it’s chocolate.