Health

Dropped snack? No sweat! Study reveals 5-second rule is real

March 12, 2014 at 1:46 PM ET

Video: A new study finds that food picked up just a few seconds after being dropped is less likely to contain bacteria than if it is left for longer periods of time.

You're sitting on the couch at home and your snack falls on the floor. Have you ever invoked the "five-second rule" to feel better about putting that cookie or nacho back into your mouth?

Many of us have been there (whether we care to admit or not), and here's some good news for germaphobes everywhere: A study by a group of researchers at Aston University's School of Life and Health Sciences in England suggests that the five-second rule is real and not a myth. 

Aston University microbiology professor Anthony Hilton led a team of students who tested the transfer of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria from a variety of floor surfaces ranging from carpet to laminate to tile. The researchers dropped toast, pasta, a biscuit and a sticky candy and removed them in a range from three to 30 seconds. 

"Consuming food dropped on the floor still carries an infection risk as it very much depends on which bacteria are present on the floor at the time; however, the findings of this study will bring some light relief to those who have been employing the five-second rule for years, despite a general consensus that it is purely a myth,'' Hilton told Science Daily. "We have found evidence that transfer from indoor flooring surfaces is incredibly poor with carpet actually posing the lowest risk of bacterial transfer onto dropped food." 

Other findings from a survey conducted by the students:

  • 87 percent of people surveyed said they have or would eat food dropped on the floor;
  • 55 percent of those people are women;
  • Of the women who would eat food picked up off the floor, 81 percent of them would follow the five-second rule. 

"Our study showed surprisingly that a large majority of people are happy to consume dropped food, with women the most likely to do so,'' Hilton said. "But they are also more likely to follow the five-second rule, which our research has shown to be much more than an old wives tale."

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