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A new way to think about the 5-second rule

January 25, 2010 |  5:02 pm

Youdroppedfood You’ve waited hours in line to get your hands on Kogi’s Korean BBQ tacos, and as you step away from the truck, the unthinkable happens – your drop your meal on the ground.

What do you do? Will your immune system survive if you pick it up and eat it? How about your reputation?

The good folks at SFoodie, the food blog from, have stepped in with this handy flow chart to help you navigate the complexities of this and other dropped-food scenarios.

The chart was inspired by the cutting-edge research of two biology students from Connecticut College, who tested the validity of that famous food safety axiom, the 5-second rule.

In an ingenious series of experiments, they dropped apple slices and Skittles candies on the ground and measured how long it took for dangerous bacteria to render it unsafe to eat. They found that the axiom could safely be renamed the 30-second rule.

Special thanks to Fooducate for calling this to our attention.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: In case you were wondering, this is an emausaurus. Credit: Audrey Fukman and Andy Wright

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Comments (9)

Hmm...I'd like to see the MythBusters guys confirming or bustin' the 5-second and 30-seconds rules?

The flow chart is hilarious.

Bravo! Finally hard science behind the favored 5 second rule! (Or 30 second rule which I may now adapt). Keep up the great work guys, next suggested projects; unemployment, the housing market, and the national debt.

Awesome - here in England it varies between the 5 sec and 10 second rules, and blowing on the dropped food item also helps :o)

Mythbusters did an episode on this very subject. From what I recall basically once it hits the ground, it has picked up a load of bacteria of whatever is on the ground, even under 5 seconds.

There were some yes's and no's without any line continuatons. What do I do? What do I do?

Hmm~~there has since in the dropped food.funny!

The food rule I was raised with, and yet to be studied by any university or food safety organization, was a tradition my mother credited her Irish-Catholic Mother. Probably the safest of all methods, known to our family as the 'kiss it up to heaven' rule. Once the food item falls, pick it up immediately and hold it to the heavens with a kiss...ask for a Blessing and badda-bang, badd-boom...your food is safe to eat. And yes, I am giving these instructions with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek.

LOL @ "blowing on the dropped-food item." I recall a MythBusters on double-dipping. The key point was their so-called "control" sample already had loads of bacteria despite no dipping at all.

My rule (I have now grown kids): you drop it, you eat it. I drop it, I eat it or, if it's raw pork or the like that I'm cooking, I pitch it. This rule does not apply to guests.


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