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Study Says It’s Okay to Follow the Five-Second Rule

Update Date: Mar 13, 2014 03:46 PM EDT

The "five-second" rule dictates that whenever food falls onto the ground, picking it up in under five minutes makes the food okay to eat. Despite this phrase, many health experts have warned people that the five-second rule is only a myth. Now, according to a new study, the five-second rule might hold a little bit more truth than previously believed.

"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," Anthony Hilton, a professor of microbiology at Aston University in England, 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. 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."

For this study, the researchers analyzed the transfer of bacteria strains such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus aureus. They looked at different types of floors such as carpet, laminate and tile. The foods involved were toast, pasta, ham, a sticky dessert and dried fruit. The researchers allowed the foods to sit for three to 30 seconds.

The researchers concluded that the type of floor mattered greatly. Bacteria strains were more likely to be transferred to the foods on laminate or tiled surfaces than carpet. The type of food that was most susceptible to bacteria was moist food that was allowed to sit for longer than five seconds. The team also reported that the faster you pick up the food, granted that it is under five seconds, the safer the food is to eat relative to foods that stay on the ground longer. The researchers then surveyed people and found that 87 percent of people stated that they would eat food that fell on the floor. 55 percent of them were women.

"Our study showed that a surprisingly large majority of people are happy to consume dropped food, with women the most likely to do so. But they are also more likely to follow the 5 second rule, which our research has shown to be much more than an old wives' tale," Professor Hilton added according to the school's news release.

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.

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