Five-second food rule has some merit, new study says

Some chips and cookies on a laminate floor.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

The latest on the five-second rule: Food picked up after a few seconds of falling on the floor is less likely to contain bacteria than if it’s left there longer.

The findings are from Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences in Britain. A group of biology students led by microbiology professor Anthony Hilton studied the amount of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria on different substances after they had been dropped on the floor for three to 30 seconds. They used toast, pasta, biscuits and sticky, sweet foods and dropped them on carpet, laminate and tiled surfaces.

A couple seconds, though, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear.


“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,” Hilton said. “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.”

The students found that the transfer of bacteria from floor to food was the lowest when dropped on carpet. Bacteria was most likely transferred from laminate or tiled surfaces to moist foods that were dropped for more than five seconds.

According to a survey that accompanied the study, 87% of respondents said they would use the five-second rule.

The study has yet to be peer reviewed or officially published.

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