Say Hello to Our Little Friends

by Kim Pederson…….

I’m sure it’s been a burning question in many people’s minds for centuries: “What really happens when you drop food on the floor?” Or put another way, is the five-second rule myth or fact? Since you may not be familiar with the FSR (a 2003 survey noted that 56% of men and 70% of women queried knew of it), the rule is simply that food dropped on the floor is safe to eat, i.e., not chowdaminated, if picked up before five seconds have passed. Sadly, given the amount of food our culture already wastes, the rule is a myth. If bacteria occupy said floor, and it’s likely since they are everywhere, then the chowdamination occurs pretty much on contact.

 They're Here! There! And Everywhere!*

They’re Here! There! And Everywhere!*

At least that’s what Melissa Hogenboom of BBC Earth tells us. (This is a fascinating website, by the way. It also tackles such tough questions as “Why don’t we see baby pigeons?,”Do we really eat spiders at night?,” and “Can your plant hear you talk?“) At any one time, Melissa tells us, more than 9,000 species of microbes, including 7,000 types of bacteria, lurk in the dust in our homes. Not only that, we have bacteria all over us and we even shed them through our skin and when we exhale. One study reports that each one of us emits 38 million bacterial cells every hour. Yikes!

Fortunately, most bacteria are harmless, which translates to mean that little sausage that slipped off your fork somehow and hit the floor is probably safe to eat. One microbial ecologist goes as far to say you can lick your floor or even your toilet seat and be reasonably safe from illness. Of course it’s that “probably” or “reasonably” that give us pause. Indeed, the five-second rule is nonsense. As Melissa says, “If there really is a nasty microbe about, sticking to the rule is not going to prevent you from getting sick.” The rest of the time, however, “it is fine to eat food from the floor.”

I have another question, though. Since I am prone, due to chronic inattention, to missing my mouth with food and hitting my face with it, should I then eschew from chewing since we live constantly cheek by jowl with our tiny companions? That pizza piece could now be swarming with bad germs. It could also, though, have microbes that “could contribute to the development of a healthy immune system.” Since I have brain freeze when it comes to this dietary dilemma, I must consult once again the Magic 8 Ball. Should I eat food I drop on the floor or otherwise bacterialize? “Most likely,” it answers. Well, that solves everything. Thanks for nothing, oh feckless font of ambiguity.

* Escherichia coli: Scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli, grown in culture and adhered to a cover slip (US-PD).


Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.

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Kim Pederson
Kim Pederson has been a freelance writer and editor since 1996. Prior to that, he was Senior Editor with Charles River Associates, an international economics consulting firm. Kim earned a B.A. in English (Honors) from the University of Montana and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop. His plays have won awards and been produced in Seattle and other locations; his screenplays have won awards and been optioned, and he has done work-for-hire scripts for film production companies. Kim lives in Key West with his wife Kalo and two Maine coon cats, VeuDeu and Pazuzu.

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