Is the Five-Second Rule Real?

You’ve heard picking up dropped food ASAP means it’s okay to eat. But there's more to that story!

cereal on the floorivylingpy/Shutterstock

The five-second rule tells us that when you pick up food right after you drop it, it’s still safe to eat. It’s a surprisingly hot topic, and has actually been investigated by everyone from the guys on Mythbusters to Donald W. Schaffner, a food microbiologist at Rutgers University. We’ve looked into other old wives’ tales, and thought it was about time for the five-second rule.

Professor Schaffner did some pretty thorough research using four foods (watermelon, bread, bread with butter and Haribo gummy candy), as well as four surfaces (stainless steel, ceramic tile, wood and carpet).

Based on the findings, we’re sad to report that if food hits a dirty floor, it’s going to be contaminated almost instantly. In other words, picking it up in five seconds (or less!) might not be fast enough.

But…Can I Still Eat Dropped Food?

If you’re the kind of person who simply can’t throw food away–don’t worry; you might be alright. When it comes to food on the floor, there are lots of factors at play. Here’s what we know:

Type of Food

  • Sticky or wet food collects bacteria almost instantly, so you’ll want to toss any cut fruit, buttered toast or pasta that hits the ground
  • If you can see a piece of dust or dog hair stuck to your food, you can probably imagine the bacteria that’s trying to hitch a ride, too

Where You Drop It

  • Stuff that’s dropped on the carpet tends to pick up less bacteria than food dropped on stainless steel or ceramic tile
  • If you drop a piece of food on a clean surface–say, the kitchen island you just wiped down with a spritz of vinegar–you’re probably good to go

Here’s some good news–you can clean pretty much every surface in your house with baking soda.

Wait. Do People Really Eat Off the Floor?

The short answer is yes. Surprised? Uber Eats talked to more than 1,000 people for its “How America Eats” survey. The results show that 50% of adults in the U.S. have eaten food that fell on the floor!

(It sounds like 50% of people answered honestly and the other half didn’t want to admit they’ve eaten stray pieces of salty and delish Chex mix off the carpet.)

We don’t know about you, but if a chocolate chip cookie hits the floor–we’re going after it.

Try not to drop these yummy recipes.
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Lara Eucalano
Lara is a writer, editor and gardener who loves to cook almost as much as she loves to eat. She will absolutely hop on a plane in search of good food!