Is there any truth behind the ‘five-second rule’?

‘Does the five-second rule really work?’ – this was the question posed on a recent article by the NHS. We’ve probably all picked up food off the floor, within five seconds of dropping it, before giving it a quick wipe and eating it. Or we have at the very least talked about it, but is there any truth in it?

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The article discusses how the idea that ‘a bit of dirt is good for you’ is popularised in the media, yet every year in the UK around a million people suffer from a food-related illness that could have been prevented  through basic hygiene such as washing hands and preparing and cooking food properly.

Dr Ronald Cutler, a microbiologist from Queen Mary, University of London, says this is certainly not based on science and set out to prove this point by subjecting the five-second rule to rigorous testing.

Dr Cutler conducted a trial that involved dropping slices of pizza, apple and toast on a range of surfaces artificially contaminated with E. coli to demonstrate what happens when food is dropped on heavily contaminated surfaces, and whether the time it was left made a difference to the degree of contamination.

The food was dropped on the contaminated surfaces and was picked up either immediately, or after five or 10 seconds, and compared with control samples that were not dropped.

Each item dropped was heavily contaminated, regardless of whether it was picked up immediately, or after five or 10 seconds.

Dr Cutler concluded by saying ‘No matter if it’s a home carpet, the kitchen floor or in the street, my advice is if you drop it, chuck it.’

A 2007 study also backs up Dr Cutler’s findings.

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