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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 14 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 11
British scientists confirm 'five second rule'
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British scientists confirm 'five second rule'

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

It's official. The 'five second rule' - i.e., food dropped on the floor can be eaten, provided it's picked up within five seconds - is not merely urban folklore. It's scientific fact.

Researchers at Ashton University in Birmingham, England, have found that the longer the time food remains on the floor, the more likely it is to become contaminated by bacteria.

'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,' Anthony Hilton, Professor of Microbiology at Ashton University, said in a statement.

The research was done by final-year biology students and supervised by Hilton. It is believed to be the first scientific study of the 'five second rule.' An episode of the TV show 'Mythbusters' did an informal investigation on the same topic.

The researchers monitored the transfer of the common bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus aureus from several indoor floor types, including carpet, laminate and tiled surfaces, to toast, pasta, biscuit, ham, dried fruit and a sticky dessert, with contact lasting between 3 and 30 seconds.

They found that the time the food stayed on the floor was the most significant factor in bacterial transfer from floor surface to food.

The type of flooring also had a significant effect on the transfer. For example, bacteria are less likely to contaminate food on carpets and more likely to make contact on laminated or tiled surfaces, especially if the food is moist and left on the floor for more than 5 seconds.

In addition to testing the time it takes for bacteria from a floor surface to contaminate dropped food, the Ashton University researchers also surveyed a sample of university students about their attitudes towards eating dropped food.

They also found that a large majority of the people surveyed were willing to eat dropped food. About 87% participants admitted to eating food fallen on the floor, of which 55% were women. Approximately 81% of the women who were ready to consume food dropped on the floor followed the 'five second rule.'

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