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5 Factors To Consider Before You Follow The 5-Second Food Rule

'Wala pa namang five seconds eh' is not enough of a reason to pick it up and eat it.
by Mars Salazar | Jan 19, 2016
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Say you’re going through a bowl of popcorn when a piece misses your mouth and lands on the floor. Do you still put it in your mouth (“Wala pa namang five seconds eh!”) or should you throw it away immediately?

Believe it or not, a few scientific studies have been made on the topic, and guess what: It takes much less than five seconds for microorganisms to transfer to your food. Basically, once it lands on the floor, you can count on it to be contaminated in one way or another.

You can choose to follow the so-called five-second food rule and gobble that piece within a few ticks as if nothing happened, or you can play it safe by leaving it on the floor. (But please clean up after, unless you want to invite ants over.)

Whatever the case, we do hope you'll ask yourself these questions first:

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1) Is the floor dirty?

This one’s a no-brainer. If the floor’s visibly disgusting, then common sense should tell you that there are germs there and that you probably shouldn’t eat that morsel anymore if you value your well-being. If you’re confident in the cleanliness of the surface you dropped it on—like you personally mopped it just an hour ago—then maybe it’ll be okay to follow the five-second rule. Still, rest assured: No matter how spotless your floor may be, there will still be microbes on it.

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2) Is the food moist/sticky?

You know how you can pick up more dirt using a wet wipe than with a dry piece of tissue? Well, the same goes for food. Steamed fish and saliva-covered candy can attract more filth—and definitely even more bacteria—than non-sticky stuff like potato chips. Keep that in mind the next time a bit of your merienda falls on the floor.

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3) What kind of surface did I drop it on?

Surprisingly, smooth surfaces, like tiles or laminate, can transfer germs better than, say, carpeted surfaces, where only the tips of the fiber touch your food. Wood, meanwhile, transfers germs crazy fast—maybe because of its moisture-retaining abilities. Interesting, huh?

4) Is my immune system strong enough?

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If the food-dropping incident happened while you’re sick, you probably shouldn’t eat that piece anymore. Your immune system is already concentrating on fighting off an illness, and you wouldn’t want to tempt fate by battling a possible e.coli infection at the same time. Young children and the elderly likewise shouldn’t eat dropped food since they’re more prone to stomach bugs and other illnesses.

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5) How long has it been on the floor?

To a certain extent, the five-second rule holds true: A study has shown that food picked up within a few seconds collected way less germs than food retrieved after 30 seconds. You’ll still get some germs regardless of the time your food spent on the floor but the bottom line is: The longer food stays on a contaminated surface, the more microbes it accumulates. 

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Basically, you probably won’t die if you invoke the five-second rule on a bit of grub that fell on a pristine-looking floor or on your carpet, especially if you’re munching on something dry like gummy bears or cookies.

However, if you dropped your sticky cheese sandwich on a floor that obviously hasn’t seen a mop in weeks, or if you live in a place where roaches and rats roam wild and free, it’s best to err on the side of paranoia and just throw it in the trash.


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