The Times West Virginian

March 23, 2014

If you drop it, should you go ahead and eat it?

Times West Virginian

— Growing up, my family did not observe the “5 Second Rule.”

You know, it’s that unwritten rule amongst children, harried mothers and people who really, really want to eat that peanut M&M that fell on the floor. If you drop a piece of food on the floor, if you pick it up within five seconds, you fall under a “grace” period where it’s OK to eat the food.

No, my family did not believe in such a rule, as we were governed by a much higher code. When something was dropped in my house, Dad would often call out “30-second Infantry Rule!”

Dad, who spend almost all of his 30-year career in the U.S. Army as an infantryman, appreciated the value of food. If you go to work, head out to the woods or the desert or the tundra depending on the mission and your food is literally rationed based on the number of days you’ll be there, I guess you learn to appreciate food.

And I guess if something in your Meal Ready to Eat package accidentally hits the ground or the floor — knowing that you’ve only got that package of food for that day and any wasted means you’ll be that much hungrier until the next day — I guess you’d be a little more willing to break with social graces.

But unlike most of the rules and values my father taught me growing up, I did not pass down the “30-second Infantry Rule” to my own children. If something hit the floor, I’d make a split-second decision about whether it was still edible, whether it needed to be rinsed off in the sink or if I could just blow it off or wipe it off and hand it back to the screaming child.

Not with my first child. Everything was cleaned and sterilized, even if it just spent time on the dining room table. By the second and third child, if a pacifier hit the ground and I didn’t have a spare, I would “wash it off” by putting it in my own mouth. Anything to stop the screaming.

My kids are rinsers now that they’re able to make their own decisions about food that hits the floor. From lollipops to Popsicles to once even a banana, if food can be salvaged at the kitchen sink, they will not hesitate to do so.

Me, I like food, but I’m pretty particular about what I’ll eat after it’s been dropped. Chocolate, in all cases, falls under the 5-Second Rule. Other than that, it’s a case-by-case basis.

I’m not sure whether it’s changed my mind at all, but researchers in the United Kingdom at fully-accredited Aston University have declared that there is some truth to the 5-Second Rule. Though the study has not yet been peer reviewed, which I guess is a big deal in the science community, the study find that, shockingly, “food picked up just a few seconds after being dropped is less likely to contain bacteria than if it is left for longer periods of time.”

The study found that: Time is significant when it comes to the transfer of bacteria from the floor to a piece of food; and the type of flooring has an impact, too, with carpeted surfaces transferring less bacteria in the time span than a laminate floor, for example.

“Consuming food dropped on the floor still carries an infection risk as it very much depends on which bacteria are present on the floor at the time,” said professor Anthony Hilton, who led the team of student researchers. “However the findings of this study will bring some light relief to those who have been employing the five-second rule for years, despite a general consensus that it is purely a myth.”

The study also found that of those surveyed, 87 percent of responders say they do or have picked up food from the floor and eaten.

Well, we have out own little survey system, too, which can be found on our interactive poll question each week at Last week, we asked, “A new study says that within a 5-second span, food is unlikely contaminated with enough bacteria when dropped to be unsafe. Do you observe the ‘5 Second Rule?’”

And here’s what you had to say:

• Does it count if you rinse it off? — 1.89 percent

• Heck yeah — 32 percent

• No, gross — 32.08 percent

• It kind of depends on what’s been dropped — 33.96 percent

This week let’s talk about healthy habits again, but from an insurance standpoint. The deadline to sign up for health insurance through provisions of the Affordable Health Care Act is March 31. What are your thoughts?

Log on. Vote. Email me or respond online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor