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Oops! Dropped That Goodie on the Floor


Usually we leave science reporting to our colleague Art Chimes, who hosts the VOA program "Our World." But we just couldn't wait to get you the latest findings about "The Five-Second Rule."

Not long ago, another colleague was chatting away at the coffee pot when a cookie slipped from his grasp. He calmly reached down, picked it up, gave it a quick brush with his hand, and devoured it.

Watching this, another friend arched her eyebrow at the very THOUGHT that he would EAT something that had dropped to the floor. Just THINK of what people's shoes had dragged in.

"It's OK. Five-second rule!" our cookie man replied with a wink. He was a firm believer that a fallen object that is swiftly retrieved would not have TIME to pick up germs.

The Five-Second Rule may have originated with Genghis Khan, who is said to have had a much more generous window of twelve HOURS in which one could safely eat morsels of food off the floor. Thirteenth-century Mongol warriors weren't quite as fussy as people today. Others say the modern fast-food industry cooked up the Five-Second Rule to save money. So what if you flip a hot burger onto the floor, so long as you slide it right back into the bun?

Well, along came Jillian Clarke, an enterprising apprentice in a University of Illinois laboratory. She swabbed a few e-coli bacteria on an otherwise shiny-clean floor. Then she dropped a cookie and a bit of candy onto the floor, but grabbed them up in a flash and hustled them over to a microscope. There, she discovered, e-coli organisms had in fact firmly affixed themselves to the fallen sweets.

So the Five-Second Rule is a legend, wishful thinking, an old wives' tale, and the latest example of how science sure can spoil a good time.

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