You are about to enjoy a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie right from the oven when it’s intercepted by the cabinet door and falls to the kitchen floor. That’s when the “five-second rule” comes into play. If it has been on the floor for less than five seconds, it’s safe to eat, right? No matter how clean you believe the kitchen floor is or how clean the cookie looks, it’s not safe to eat.
“Despite what you have heard, there’s no such thing as the ‘five-second rule’ when it comes to food dropped on an unclean surface,” UAMS neurosurgeon Dr. T. Glenn Pait says.
What if you immediately rinse the food off after it has been dropped on the floor? Dr. Pait says that water may not clean it completely, even though it may reduce the amount of bacteria.
“How much bacteria the item picks up and what type of microbes are involved depends on the object and where it falls,” he says. “Some food items pick up microbes easier than others. A relatively clean table is less likely to be contaminated with bacteria than a kitchen floor, for example.”
So, what is a better rule for dropped food? Dr. Pait suggests “when in doubt, throw it out.”