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.