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The five-second rule for food on the floor might be legit after all

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Gary Ogden
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I find people dropping food very funny. In fact, I find people dropping anything very funny, but food holds a special place because more often than not, you can no longer use that food post-drop – you were really looking forward to it and now it is on the floor, dead. 

However, there are times, depending on the situation, when you can drop food and subsequently eat it. These circumstances usually fall under the “five-second rule”, or “three-second rule” or, if you are a cat, “the seven-month rule”.

Food has long been deemed edible if you pick it up off the floor before five seconds is up – it’s fine to eat and you won’t get ill. Of course, if the tasty little morsel is on the ground for six seconds or more, it will mutate into a rancid death-trap covered in putrid fungus, life-ending bacteria, blood-sucking ants and brain-controlling wasps.

As with many old wives’ tales (my old wife often used to shout “Five-second rule!” to mock my lovemaking techniques), the truth of its effectiveness was never really out there. Thankfully, it is now.

Anthony Hilton, a professor from Aston University, has done some all-important research on the subject. He says: “Obviously, food covered in visible dirt shouldn't be eaten, but as long as it's not obviously contaminated, the science shows that food is unlikely to have picked up harmful bacteria from a few seconds spent on an indoor floor.”

So basically, it depends how dirty your floor is. If you live in a wattle and daub house with a family of wild pigs, then it’s best not to eat your caviar once you’ve dropped it. However, if you often vacuum your carpet and have a strict shoes-at-the-door policy, then why not just pick up that Cheestring using your fucking tongue?

There are other factors at play though – Hilton mentions: “That is not to say that germs can't transfer from the floor to the food. Our research has shown that the nature of the floor surface, the type of food dropped on the floor and the length of time it spends on the floor can all have an impact on the number that can transfer.”

So you also have to take into account the type of food you’re dropping. Drop a single, unsalted peanut onto the floor and you should be alright, but fling an entire blancmange down the stairs and you’re best leaving it there until Mum comes home. Sticky foods will obviously have the potential to pick up more germs and dirt, and the smaller the surface area contact the better.

Of course, these other variables become more severe as the time goes on; so leaving a single blade of wheat balanced upright on your lino, but for two hours before eating it, will give you a higher chance of coming down with something. Especially if you’re a celiac – then you’re really going to need to clean the floor afterwards.

Professor Hilton will be demonstrating the five second rule at The Big Bang Fair – a science exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham this week. Not on stage or anything – he’ll just be wandering around the arena knocking ice-creams out of toddlers’ hands and then stealing them off the floor.

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Gary Ogden

Shortlist writer and "the least woke person in the office", Gary Ogden, likes horror movies, Cheestrings, tapping his leg under the desk, "having a drink", PDAs, not having eczema anymore, hiding from responsibility, screaming into the mirror whenever he is alone, and assorted other things. Mainly the eczema thing though. @garyblogden

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