'Five-Second Rule' Validated by Expert (to the Relief of Parents Everywhere)

Liz Alterman

five second rule
SAYAN MOONGKLANG/Shutterstock
The thought of watching your child pick up food off the floor and eat it is enough to make most parents cringe. But for those who like to invoke the "five-second rule" -- meaning if an item hits the ground just briefly, you can go ahead and consume without fear of an infectious disease -- we've got some good news. A germ expert claims that while it's not completely without risk, eating food that's hit the floor momentarily isn't cause for alarm. Can you hear a collective sigh of parental relief? (I know I just did!)

Professor Anthony Hilton, a germ expert from Aston University, has some comforting news on the food vs. filth front.

"Eating food that has spent a few moments on the floor can never be entirely risk-free," he told the Independent. "Obviously, food covered in visible dirt shouldn't be eaten, but as long as it's not obviously contaminated, the science shows that food is unlikely to have picked up harmful bacteria from a few seconds spent on an indoor floor."

That's music to the ears of parents who've watched in shocked disbelief and disgust as their toddlers have plucked Froot Loops off the floor of a Gymboree and popped them right in their mouths.

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But that's not to say that germs can't transfer to your food from the floor. So before you start throwing caution to the wind and letting your child feast on the field of crumbs beneath your dining room table, consider this:

"Our research has shown that the nature of the floor surface, the type of food dropped on the floor, and the length of time it spends on the floor can all have an impact on the number that can transfer," Hilton continued.

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While we're itching to believe in this study that shows plenty of people eat off the floor without suffering any ill consequences, it hasn't been peer-reviewed yet. So, for now, we should probably take it with a grain of salt -- preferably one that's still in the shaker and not on the ground.

And though it's good news for fans of the "five-second rule," as all parents know, as soon as you let something slide once, it's like you've set a precedent for all future behavior. 

As much as I want to embrace this "it's all good" notion, I think the trouble is this: If you let your child eat grapes off your living room floor and they get the message it's okay, next thing you know they're eating Goldfish they discover on the floor at your library. Then it's just a short time before they're dropping to the ground to eat corn dog remnants off the men's room floor at a football stadium. Eek!

Still, we've all heard that alarming statistic that the average person will eat six pounds of dirt in his or her lifetime, so maybe there's nothing to worry about anyway?

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Case in point: Our parenting editor Aprils Daniels Hussar shared a story that would make any parent reel back in horror.

"Thirty-five-plus years later, my mom still tells the story of the time I scooped up gum off the subway platform and stuck it in my mouth! She is still traumatized," Daniels Hussar revealed.

While her mom might be plagued with guilt, her daughter turned out just fine. Long live the five-second rule!

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moms, food safety, food