Are You or Your Kids Making This Common Health Mistake? The 5 Second Rule Myth Explained

Instead of the five-second rule, for some of us it is the three-second rule or the ten-second rule. However long you count, most of us are familiar with the idea that food – once dropped – is okay to eat if quickly picked up off the floor.

Bacteria are literally everywhere.

The idea behind these “rules” is that if you pick up a dropped piece of food quickly enough, it remains uncontaminated.

According to Dr. Roy M. Gulick, chief of the division of infectious disease at Weill Cornell Medical College, “The five-second rule probably should become the zero-second rule.” (1)

Bacteria Moves in Seconds

Eating food that has been dropped on the floor increases the risk of gastrointestinal disease! Research has proven that harmful bacteria can remain on surfaces for up to four weeks at a time.

Dr. Gulick explains that, “Eating dropped food poses a risk for ingestion of bacteria and subsequent gastrointestinal disease, and the time the food sits on the floor does not change the risk.”

As it turns out, a study published in 2007 in the Journal of Applied Microbiology took a close look at the five-second rule. (2) In the study, researchers:

  • Tested salmonella that was placed on different surfaces. These were tile, wood, and carpet.
  • Dropped bologna on each surface for 5, 30, and 60 seconds.

Researchers found that the time the bologna spent on any given surface made little difference. Nearly 100% of the salmonella moved from the floor to the food in a matter of seconds.

Not only that, but bacterial populations persisted in large numbers on these surfaces for up to 4 weeks.

Does this mean that you should immediately begin scrubbing your floors and countertops? Not so fast.

Bacteria are literally everywhere. They are in the air that we breathe. The public door handles that we touch. The carpet that our babies roll around on. They are on the hands that we prepare our food with. And they live in the pillows that we rest our heads on. So why aren’t we all sick?

Bacteria live on the skin, in our ear canals and bellybuttons, in between our teeth, and they build colonies in our digestive tracts. This is a good thing because all these bacteria keep each other in check.

And no amount of scrubbing and sanitizing will wash these bugs away. Bacteria made a home on this planet long before human beings. Bacteria, for better or worse, have survived our chemical disinfectants and antibiotic drugs.

In the long run, the only thing that disinfectants and antibiotic drugs do is make bacteria stronger. And now we are faced with people dying from bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. (3)

How to Promote Bacterial Diversity

A widespread fear of microbes and germs has also conditioned many people to over-sterilize everything, whenever possible. Including their food.

After decades of food safety practices, like pasteurization, as a culture we have nearly forgotten about the benefits found in fermented foods. While no one wants disease-causing bugs to infect our food or our bodies, it’s important to remember that bacteria also nourish the body.

Without bacteria, we simply could not survive.

What drives bacteria to become pathogenic, or disease-causing, is when diversity dwindles. In other words, the more different strains of bacteria that you have in one given place, the more harmonious that place is.

This is especially important when we are talking about human health and the digestive tract. Trillions of bacteria populate the human body. And most of these bacteria are found in the gut. Studies have shown that a simplified gut ecology leads to things like obesity and gut infection. (4)

Unfortunately, the diet that most of us eat is lifeless and sterile. Otherwise known as the standard American diet (SAD), this is a diet containing foods that are:

  • Processed
  • Refined
  • Pumped full of hormones and antibiotics
  • Preserved with synthetic sugars and chemicals

This kind of diet reduces bacterial diversity, simplifies gut ecology, and promotes disease.

3 Steps to Build Your Inner Ecosystem and Secure Your Health and Longevity

While we are not suggesting that you eat food off the floor, we are suggesting that you take a few steps to promote healthy gut bacteria. For example, you could:

  1. Prepare a batch of fermented vegetables at home and then eat these veggies at least once a day.
  2. Look beyond a probiotic supplement for healthy bacteria. Incorporate probiotic beverages into your diet to receive a broad spectrum of living microbes.
  3. Next time you’re sick, consult a naturopathic physician or herbalist. Antibacterial herbs kill the bad bugs, can be as effective as antibiotics, do not contaminate our water system, and do not wipe out the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

Most of us are familiar with the five-second rule. But picking food up off the floor leaves you at risk of ingesting harmful bacteria that could lead to gastrointestinal disease as bacteria move in seconds. In fact, bacteria can be found everywhere and have survived chemical disinfectants and antibiotic drugs, which have only made bacteria even stronger.

Yet instead of over-sterilizing as much as possible, it’s important to promote bacterial diversity to effectively nourish the body with beneficial bacteria. This is critical to support the health of the digestive tract since a simplified gut ecology can lead to both gut infection and obesity. Eating the standard American diet full of processed and refined foods will only reduce bacterial diversity and promote disease.

There are 3 steps that you can take today to improve your health and build your inner ecosystem:

  1. Make fermented vegetables at home and eat them at least once a day.
  2. Drink probiotic beverages instead of taking a probiotic supplement for a broad spectrum of living microbes.
  3. Visit an herbalist or naturopathic physician the next time that you’re sick.
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  1. C Claiborne Ray. Science: Q & A, The 5-Second Rule. The New York Times. 2011 Feb 28. Retrieved Aug 16 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/science/01qna.html?_r=2&ref=todayspaperc
  2. P Dawson, et al. Residence time and food contact time effects on transfer of Salmonella Typhimurium from tile, wood and carpet: testing the five-second rule. Journal of Applied Microbiology. 2007; 102: 945–953.
  3. Hughes, James. Preserving the lifesaving power of antimicrobial agents. JAMA. Published online February 22, 2011.
  4. RE Ley, et al. Microbial ecology: Human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature. 2006; 444 (7122): 1022-1023.
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