Should you eat dropped food?
Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta recently reverted to parenting mode after he lost his chewing gum during his teamís Big Ten-title clinching victory over Wisconsin. Popping the gum back in his mouth, he said:
"I have two daughters and they taught me a three-second rule. I have three seconds to pick it up off the floor and itís still OK. I picked it up quick," he said, according to USA Todayís Marlen Garcia.
It was a smooth recovery, but just how germy was that sticky gum? And was he better off because he picked his gum up in three seconds rather than five?
Researchers who have actually looked into the three-to five-second rule say, nope, sorry. Despite the heroic attempt to minimize waste, time is not a factor when food is exposed to bacteria, according to Jillian Clarke of Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, who tested the theory several years ago for a college internship.
Actually, the critical thing is where youíve dropped it.
The average office desk, for example, harbors 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat, according to University of Arizona researcher Charles Gerba. And teachersí work spaces have more bacteria than most other professions, followed by surfaces used by accountants and bankers, Gerba says.
Itís probably better to pick up a morsel off a dirty street than a hospital floor that hasnít been decontaminated.
And in the home, the kitchen harbors more germs than any other room in the house, according to the Journal of Applied Microbiology. The greatest germ concentrations lurk in kitchen sponges and dishcloths, but sink drains, faucet handles and doorknobs are next highest on the list.
That means, of course, that itís important to wash your hands before picking food up off the floor if youíre going to eat it. But not everyone does. Gerba has found office candy bowls are often high in bacteria and sometimes even contain fecal bacteria. Yuck!
Here are a few more of Clarke's findings:
Seventy percent of women and 56 percent of men are familiar with the five-second rule, and most use it to make decisions about tasty treats that slip through their fingers.
University floors are remarkably clean from a microbial standpoint.
Women are more likely than men to eat food that has been on the floor.
Cookies and candy are much more likely to be picked up and eaten than cauliflower or broccoli.
And, if you drop your food on a floor that does contain micro-organisms, the food can be contaminated in 5 seconds or less.