Mummy Buzz


The Truth About the Five-Second Rule

When in Doubt, Throw it Out

So much for the five-second rule. Another urban mommy myth bites the big one. Seems anything that drops on the floor—be it the cookie or the soother—is contaminated long before those five seconds are up. 

"A dropped item is immediately contaminated and can't really be sanitized," says medical director of the infection prevention and control program at Loyola University Health System, Jorge Parada. "When it comes to folklore, the 'five-second rule' should be replaced with 'when in doubt, throw it out'."

This (unconventional) wisdom applies to any item that comes into contact with another surface. 

"If you rinse off a dropped hot dog you will will probably greatly reduce the amount of contamination, but there will still be some amount of unwanted and potentially nonbeneficial bacteria on that hot dog," said Parada, who says that when applying the five-second rule, "you are rolling the dice with your health or that of your loved one."

Ever licked a dropped pacifier to clean it off, what Parada refers to as "double-dipping"? Show of guilty hands, please... So Parada can rap them. "You are exposing yourself to bacteria and you are adding your own bacteria to that which contaminated the dropped item. No one is spared anything with this move."

Obviously, even Parada concedes that there are varying degrees of contamination, depending on the surface area, the absorbency of the item, and the amount of time item is left on said surface, i.e. a clean table definitely contains fewer microbes than say the floor. 

I can only imagine the horror Parada would have experienced having observed (true story) the toddler who dropped his lollipop on a public bathroom floor while mom wasn't paying attention, only to plop it back in his mouth. 

But aren't microbes actually good for building a child's immunity? Or is that another mommy myth? 

"There actually is certain research that supports the importance of being exposed to bacteria at critical times in a child's development," said Parada. "But I believe this development applies to exposures of everyday living. I do not advocate deliberately exposing ourselves to known contaminants... If you want to be proactive in building up your defenses, eat right, exercise, and adequate sleep -- and remember to get your vaccines."

Consider yourselves educated, yummies. And here I thought double-dipping referred to the hummus at a party...