Scientists at Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences in the United Kingdom say that food that falls to the ground is less likely to pick up bacteria if it is retrieved quickly.
Student researchers dropped food items — including biscuits, toast and pasta — on various indoor floor surfaces and picked them back up after times ranging from 3 seconds to 30 seconds. The food items were then checked them for the presence of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
The study found that the longer the food remained on the floor the more bacteria it was likely to collect. They also determined that the type of surface the food ends up affects the amount of bacteria transferred to the food. Carpeted surfaces are less likely to transmit bacteria, while tiled or laminate surfaces are more likely to do so.
Their findings appear to partially support the so-called 5-second rule, which holds that food dropped on the ground is still safe to consume so long as it hasn’t remained on the floor for more than 5 seconds. The professor in charge of the project noted that the study suggested that the 5-second rule was “much more than an old wives tail.”
According to a survey conducted by the researchers, 87% of respondents confessed willingness to eat food that had fallen on the floor.
Despite the findings, Eating food that has spent any length of time on the floor still increases the risk of infection, the professor in charge of the study warned.