The Egg Recall: Rethinking the 5-Second Rule


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 seems like a perfect time to invoke the 5-second rule.

That’s the polite fiction we like to believe that says if we are quick enough, we can pick up fallen food before it’s been tainted; that 5 seconds isn’t enough time for contamination to occur. We pick it up, scrutinize it, maybe brush it off or blow on it, and proceed to eat it. Surveys have shown that while most of us abide by the rule at least some of the time, parents of young children are the most ardent practitioners, constantly popping dropped bottles, pacifiers, and snacks into the mouths of their offspring.

With food safety on the brain these days, is it time to rethink the 5-second rule?

Salmonella is our bacterium du jour; the culprit in the current recall of half a billion eggs. Salmonella is a hardy thing that can survive even on clean, dry surfaces. A little dose of microbes on your kitchen counters or floors will be plenty virulent for days, even weeks after exposure. Drop a piece of toast, and in those 5 seconds before you can snatch it up, anywhere from 150 to 8,000 bacteria can attach themselves. There is some value to the 5-second rule; it takes just one minute for the bread to be infected with ten times as many bacteria. But since you can be sickened by ingesting as few as 10 salmonella bacteria, those extra seconds are hardly worth quibbling about.

Maybe it’s time for a new 5-second rule.

5-second rule 2.0– next time you drop something, take those 5 seconds to reflect on the symptoms of salmonella poisoning (4 to 7 days of nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and headaches), and consider how just a few bacteria are enough to infect you. At the end of those five seconds, decide if it’s worth eating.

Even if it’s chocolate.


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14 Responses to The Egg Recall: Rethinking the 5-Second Rule

  1. Pingback: Restaurant Germs | Gigabiting

  2. Janice says:

    It’s generally safer to eat something that falls in the dirt outside than something that falls on the kitchen floor.

  3. Janice says:

    I didn’t even want to go there- the question of what goes on in the unseen kitchen.

  4. Janice says:

    A ‘polite fiction’ was what I called it. Yes, it is about cutting a little slack.

  5. Janice says:

    And carpet is even worse than wood or tile- harbors about 10x the bacteria level.

  6. Janice says:

    And I was brought up to believe that a good challenge to the immune system would toughen me up.

  7. The five second rule was not allowed in my house growing up. My grandmother always said that it was just a test of your immune system.

  8. It's all BS says:

    I tell everyone how bad those germs are that are on the floor…now maybe people will listen….throw it out…yuck!

  9. Lana says:

    Um. You do realize the 3-second rule (yeah, it’s always been 3 seconds, not 5) is a joke, right? People say this when they know its dirty, but are going to eat it anyway.

  10. RavieNomNoms says:

    Great post!

  11. Good post. The 5 second rule needs to be recalled and disposed of. Your’re, its not worth the risk. Especially if you are a chef or restaurant owner.

  12. Yuck! I’m definitely rethinking the five second rule now too. Thanks for this post!

  13. Stephanie says:

    Thank you for your reminder. I had no idea about all the bacteria that attach so fast to our food. And yuck salmonella. Appreciate the info!

  14. Such a good reminder of the falsity of the 5-sec rule. I say if it’s dropped on the floor, throw it away!

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