5-Second Rule: Myth or Fact?

Is the infamous '5-second rule' actually true? Are household cooks or even chefs using this urban legend to justify using up that dropped piece of food?
April 30, 2015

The infamous '5-second rule' has no doubt rescued many ingredients that had accidentally rolled off the bench. But the question remains; is it actually true?

According to experts, just because it is a well-known ‘rule’, does not make it true. “There are no such things as a 5-second rule',” said Rachelle Williams, spokesperson for the Food Safety Information Council. 'It's a myth; we definitely do not recommend it.'

Although it might seem like a good excuse to pick that mushroom up off the floor, there is a very real chance that sticking to this rule could actually make you very sick.

Have you Heard of the 5-Second Rule?

In a 2003 survey carried out at the University of Illinois, an average of 63 percent of people admitted to being familiar with the 5-second rule. In experiments carried out at the same university, lollies were dropped on a floor that was coated in E. coli. In all cases, the harmful bacteria took less than five seconds to transfer to the lollies.

In another experiment Professor Paul Dawson, of Clemson University South Carolina, contaminated different surfaces with Salmonella typhimurium, a particularly nasty germ that can cause food poisoning with just ten bacteria. Professor Dawson found that more than 99 percent of the salmonella transferred to food dropped on the tiles in less than five seconds.

Is the Rule True for Some Foods?

There are experts, however, that claim some dry foods have less chance of contamination if they only come in contact with the surface for a short period of time. “Bacteria rely on moisture to grow, so any wet food is considering potentially hazardous. With dry foods, it is conversely much tougher for bacteria to grow,” said Ms. Williams.

Regardless of the type of food that lands on the floor, there can be little doubt that floors and other surfaces carry a high risk of contamination. Shoes have been found to be one of the main culprits when it comes to spreading bacteria between floors. According to the ABC’s Dr Karl, studies show that after three months of wear, 93 percent of shoes will have faecal contamination. If you knew there was a chance that faecal matter was transferred onto a dropped piece of apple, would you eat it?

That Dropped Morsel is not Worth the Risk

The Department of Health estimates that food poisoning affects approximately 5.4 million Australians every year. With such a massive number of people affected, surely taking the chance of becoming seriously ill is not worth eating that stick of Kit-Kat currently sitting on your kitchen floor - regardless of the fact you’ve thought about it all day.