The 5-second rule states that food dropped on the floor for less than 5 seconds is still safe to eat. But to really answer the question, we need to ask another how lucky do you feel?
It can take less than 5 seconds for 150 to 8,000 bacteria like Salmonella to hop a ride onto dropped food and eventually into your body where they can wreak havoc. What happens if you wait a full minute before savoring that tasty morsel from the floor? Youre looking at ten times as many bacterial freeloaders.
Now, not all bacteria are bad for you. But eating food off the floor is a bit like playing Russian roulette with your stomach. Your chances of picking up a nasty hitchhiker by sampling food off the bathroom or even kitchen floor are pretty good.We track harmful agents like fecal bacteria around on the soles of our shoes all the time, so no floor surface is guaranteed to be a safe bet.
A little bacteria goes a long way. The infectious dose is the smallest number of bacteria needed to make you sick. It can be as low as 10 bacteria for some types of Salmonella. Lots of very unlucky people about 1 in 6 Americans end up on the losing end of the deal. That's how many get sick from foodborne illnesses every year.
So the next time you drop food on the ground, you might want to think twice before dusting it off and tossing it down the hatch. Bon appetit!
Critical thinking challenge: Why is 1 minute more risky than 5 seconds?