I'll admit it. I'm guilty of using the five-second rule. Accidentally drop my half-eaten protein bar on the ground after a workout? Five-second rule. A blueberry rolls away and off the counter when making my morning smoothie? Five-second rule. Having a summer barbecue and a chip falls off my plate? You got it: five-second rule. I think it's safe to say that most of us have used the five-second rule at one time or another. But is there any truth to it? Is it actually safe to eat something that briefly fell on the floor? And is there truth to the claim that bacteria stick more to an item the longer it's exposed?
According to Jorge Parada, MD and professor of medicine and infectious disease at Loyola University Health System, the five-second rule just isn't true.
"The 5-second rule is a social convention, nothing more," Dr. Parada says. "Unfortunately, bacteria and contaminants infect dropped items upon contact, regardless of the amount of time contact is made."
While there may be no "safe period" of which to avoid bacteria, Dr. Parada does say that some surfaces are worse than others. In fact, Dr. Parada uses the five-second rule occasionally, but he still does not recommend it to others.
"The germier the surface, such as in a very public place like a fast-food restaurant or a school cafeteria or a toxic germy surface, such as a toilet, could potentially be thought of as no-brainers to definitely not try and rescue an item to eat or ingest in any way," he says. "Proceed at your own risk when salvaging items potentially exposed to bacteria!"
Think washing something off helps? While rinsing does help partially remove certain kinds of contaminants, it doesn't remove them all and it doesn't sterilize anything, Dr. Parada says. To do that, you have to boil it in water, run it through a dishwasher, or cook it.
His best advice? When in doubt, throw it out.
"It is better to be annoyed or frustrated that you have to get in line and buy another ice cream cone for your child or eat something from the fridge other than the last slice of leftover pizza or invest in another pacifier than suffer becoming ill, perhaps dangerously so," he says.
Do you use the five-second rule? Will this make you think twice? It does me...