Science

Forget The 5-Second Rule: Scientists Debunk Famous Myth

By Angela Laguipo , Sep 16, 2016 04:23 PM EDT

The famous five-second rule when it comes to food states that, once it's dropped it, it's safe to eat it as long as it stood there for just seconds. Yet now, researchers have finally debunked the myth saying that it doesn't actually take five seconds for bacteria to get on food and make it not safe to eat.

In a new study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, the researchers found that bacteria, which can cause a wide range of diseases and infections, can transfer onto any surface no matter how quickly one picks the food up.

This means that the bacteria is on the food that's dropped on the carpet, the floor or even on the table top regardless if it's one second, two seconds or even five seconds. The proponents of the study, Donald Schaffner and Robyn Miranda at Rutgers University, pointed out that there are other three studies debunking the five-second rule but decided to further provide information on the myth through experiments.

To come up with their findings, the researchers used four types of food such as bread, watermelon, bread with butter and gummy candy. They placed these objects on a wide spectrum of surfaces contaminated with the bacteria Enterobacter aerogenes. The food items were left at different time frames ranging from one, five, 10 to 300 seconds.

The team assessed transfer sequences on each surface, contact time, food and, bacterial preparation. The scenarios totaled to about 128, which were repeated 20 times each. This resulted in 2,560 measurements in all.

Findings show that watermelon had the most contamination while gummy candy had the least. This means that the moister the surface of the food is, the more bacteria will transfer to it. Furthermore, the longer food came in contact with the surface, the more bacterial contamination it gets. However, it was found that even the shortest time, one second, had bacteria transferring from the surface to the food. In fact, it took less than one second for bacteria to transfer to food.

"The five-second rule is a significant oversimplification of what actually happens when bacteria transfer from a surface to a food. Bacteria can contaminate instantaneously," explained Schaffner.

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