Does the five second rule really work?

Moral (and health) dilemma: pick it up or let it go?
Moral (and health) dilemma: pick it up or let it go?
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You can almost taste the last chocolate truffle in the box. As you raise it to your lips, your mouth begins to water with delicious anticipation. And then -- oops! It slips out of your hand and lands (along with your sweet expectations) on the floor. But it's still intact. Do you a) apply the five second rule, pick up it, dust it off and eat it or b) throw it in the trash and head to the store for another box?

If you picked the second option, congratulations. You've just avoided consuming something covered with thousands of germs. If you picked choice A, however, you may be interested to know that the five second rule (no doubt invented by a kid eager to enjoy the last bite of his fallen Hershey bar) is a dirty little lie.

The idea that food scooped from the floor in less than five seconds would be free of germs was first disproved by high school student Jillian Clarke during her internship at the University of Illinois in 2003. Clarke coated tiles with E. coli bacteria and then proceeded to drop gummy bears and fudge-stripe cookies onto their surfaces. She not only found that bacteria certainly did jump onto the food in five seconds, she also uncovered some interesting facts about human behavior -- namely that women were more likely to eat food that had fallen than men, and that sweet treats were more likely to be rescued and consumed than were veggies.

In many ways, Clarke's research raised more questions than it answered. Did the surface food contacted have an impact on germ transfer? What about the type of food? And if five seconds was bad, was 10 seconds even worse? A team of researchers at a South Carolina University attempted to answer some of these questions. Their findings and more germy information can be found on the next page.