It turns out 'the five second rule' is real

watermelon baby
watermelon baby 

This week has seen a stunning breakthrough in scientific research. Brace yourself, because it’s absolutely huge. Seriously, you may wish to sit down, as the sheer magnitude of what you’re about to learn could topple you over.

Okay, ready? Here goes. You know 'the five second rule'? That old saying that claims that dropped food is safe to eat if you pick it up within five seconds? Well, guess what …

It’s true.

Yes, researchers at Aston University have found that food picked up just a few seconds after being dropped is less likely to contain bacteria than if it is left for longer periods of time.

In their study, students monitored the transfer of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus from the floor to different kinds of food from three to 30 seconds. 

"Time is a significant factor in the transfer of bacteria from a floor surface to a piece of food; and the type of flooring the food has been dropped on has an effect," researchers stated. They added that bacteria is least likely to transfer from carpeted floors, and is most likely to quickly transfer ffrom laminate or tiled surfaces (which means that your best bet is with food that has carpet fuzz on it, which brings a whole other gross factor).

Can you believe it this news? Well, yes, of course you can. I mean, what did the researchers expect to find? That food is covered in bacteria in the first millisecond after being dropped?

Er, no.

I mean, this finding isn’t exactly the stuff of science. Parents have known about the rule for generations. In fact, knowledge of it has probably been passed on through our gene pool from our earliest ancestors. The cave men probably used the five second rule when feeding their young of an evening.


I can visualise them now, Cave Mother and Cave Father, preparing dinner for their grubby offspring in their musty cave. Cave Mum finishes roasting meat over the fire and carries it to the family. Hungry Little Cave Boy goes to pick up a leg, takes a bite, and drops the whole thing on the floor.  

He cries, looking plaintively at his mum. She jumps up, snatches the food off the floor and hands it back.

“Woo woo mammo dun oof oof  fif!” she grunts at him. “If goo!”

(“The roasted woolly mammoth has only been on the floor for five seconds! It’s fine!")

Of course Cave Mum knew about the five second rule, because she is a mother, and mothers know these things instinctively. We know without being told. One might call it ‘wisdom of the ages’, or perhaps even ‘commonsense’. We don’t need science to tell us it is so and we don’t need science to tell us we’re doing it right.

Having said that, it still is pleasant to be proven right every now and then. It’s nice to get concrete scientific evidence that we know what we’re doing.

And of course there’s still plenty left for science to prove. If scientists are looking for more research projects I can propose a few. How about proving that pulling a hideous face is dangerous? I’m sure that proper experimentation under the right conditions will establish that you can be stuck with a hideous face if the wind changes at just the right moment.

And surely scientists can analyse a woman’s saliva for changes after childbirth – we all know that maternal spit has both cleaning and disinfectant powers when used on one’s offspring’s face.

Finally, researchers can find scientific evidence that a mother is always right. And yes, we know that without being told, but it would be satisfying to finally see it in print, don’t you think?