The hot dog that rolls off the plate, the baby’s cookie that falls on the floor, the candy bar that slides across the table--we're told we have five seconds to pick it up before it's contaminated. Is this true?
Researcher Jorge Parada says, "A dropped item is immediately contaminated and can’t really be sanitized. When it comes to folklore, the 'five-second rule' should be replaced with ‘when in doubt, throw it out.'"
All items that come into contact with a surface pick up bacteria (and dirt!). How much bacteria and what kind of microbes depends on the object dropped and the surface it is dropped on.
Parada says, "If you rinse off a dropped hot dog you 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. Maybe the dropped item only picks up 1,000 bacteria, but if the amount of bacteria that is needed for most people to actually get infected, is 10,000 bacteria--well, then the odds are that no harm will occur. But what if you have a more sensitive system, or you pick up a bacteria with a lower infectious dose? Then, you are rolling the dice with your health or that of your loved one."
And using your own mouth to "clean off" a dropped baby pacifier? According to Parada, "That is double-dipping--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."
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