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Dr. Max Gomez: Science Takes On The ‘5-Second Rule’

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NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — Admit it, unless you’re a complete germophobe you’ve probably dropped food on the floor and then eaten it.

You may have rationalized your actions by telling yourself that if the food was on the floor for less than 5 seconds then it wouldn’t have had enough time to pick up germs.

According to a new study you may be right.

Katie Civitano told CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez that she constantly finds her daughter Abigail’s pacifier on the floor.

“If I have a sink on hand I’ll rinse it off in the sick or I’ll use a water bottle to sort of rinse it,” Katie said.

Abigail is healthy, but what if food is dropped on the floor and it’s never washed off? That’s where the 5-second rule comes in.

Many people believe that if a piece of food has been on the ground for less than 5 seconds then it is safe to eat.

“The five second rule depends on lots of factors. What you’re dropping, where you’re dropping, and how long it’s been dropped for,” Dr. Tracy Zivin-Nutela, Mt. Sinai-St. Luke’s, explained.

Dr. Zivin-Nutela’s advice was very much in line with findings reported in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.

The length of time that a piece of food is on the floor does make a difference, and food will pick up bacteria regardless of whether it is wet or moist.

“It definitely depends on the food. Dry crackers, chips, pretzels are less likely to pick up bacteria whereas sticky candy, gum, pasta, moist sticky things are definitely a problem,” Dr. Zivin-Tutela said.

Surprisingly, food dropped on a carpet picked up fewer germs than food dropped on hard floors, possibly because there is less surface contact.

Researchers also found that almost 9 out of 10 people have admitted to eating food that they dropped. More women than men admitted to eating dropped food.

Other studies have found that there is more than enough bacteria on any dropped food regardless of how long it has been on the ground. Not all ground surfaces are created equal. Bacteria found on sidewalks where dogs, pigeons, and rats roam freely are definitely off-limits as they can carry some very nasty bugs.

Food dropped on a freshly vacuumed or mopped floor is probably okay and could strengthen your immune system.

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