Is the five-second rule a myth?

Is the five-second rule a myth?

If your food doesn’t touch the floor for more than a few seconds, you’re good to pick it up and eat it, right?

Does science support this so-called rule, or is it just a myth? An article from a professor of food science may make you change your habits.

A Clemson University professor looked at a breadth of past research on the topic. One particularly interesting study out of his lab examined how much bacteria is transferred from the time food falls on the floor to when it is picked up.

The research team swabbed squares of tile, carpet and wood with Salmonella, a bacteria which can cause diarrhea and fever, and then placed bologna and bread on the floor for five, 30 or 60 seconds before measuring the amount of bacteria that transferred to the food.

They discovered that when food was picked up from tile or wood floors, 48-70 percent of the bacteria was transferred.

Interestingly, the length of time the food spent on the floor didn’t matter. Instead, it was the amount of bacteria on the floor that impacted the likelihood and percentage of bacteria that was transferred.

Even smaller foods like cookies and gummy bears had bacteria transferred onto them when they were only on the floor for less than five seconds. The researchers also noted that the type of surface made a difference in terms of bacteria transfer; carpets performed better than wood or tile.

A comparable study was performed in the UK with similar parameters, and the results were the same.

Researchers found it didn’t matter if the food was on the floor for three seconds or 30 seconds, but it was the amount of bacteria on the floor that really made a difference. Surprisingly, the study also surveyed participants and found that a shocking 87 percent said they had eaten or would eat food dropped on the floor.

“In order to avoid the spread of bacteria, especially when it comes to eating food off the floor, simply throw it away to avoid the risk,” says Dr. Adam Treitman, an infectious disease doctor at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.

Dr. Treitman recommends these tips to avoid food contamination:

  • Wash hands before eating and before, during and after food preparation
  • Keep counter tops clean, preferably with a bleach solution
  • Replace hand towels and sponges regularly
  • Sanitize your kitchen sink and drain disposal
  • Wipe eating areas before and after meals

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  1. Okay, but, first, how many of us have salmonella on our floors? Don’t most of us clean from time to time? And, second, are we presuming that food is 100% pure and bacteria free as we open the package? Because, you know, we can totally trust America’s food producers to provide us nothing but completely sanitary food, right?

    Anyway, this country is becoming so germ obsessed that it’s harming us the other way. We don’t get exposed to enough pathogens in order to get immune to them until we get really exposed to them and then we have no defense. Children *should* get dirty and germy and, yes, sick. Then when they get older, they’ll have the immunity to fight off infections. Anecdotes may not constitute data, but in my experience, the more germ phobic people are, the more they (and their children) end up sick.

  2. I agree entirely with Dienne. For example, how many germs are on a “clean plate” versus the floor? Especially a plate that has been dried with a dish towel that has been used to dry hands, wipe tables and dry other dishes. Unless you work in an acute care hospital, or long-term care facility, the odds are you are not leaving pathogens on your floor at home.

  3. Couldn’t agree more with Diane and Cindy. People in the U.S. have gone crazy when it comes to avoiding “germs.” I’ve never gotten sick from eating something dropped on the floor, and I’ve been doing it for years. I’ll continue to do it. Just have to be fast enough to get it before the cats or dog grab it.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.