You are walking from the concession stand back to your seat with your giant hot pretzel, partially covered in mustard, when someone bumps into you, causing your pretzel to slip from its wax-paper safety onto the floor, which has obviously been well-trafficked.  Quickly, adhering to the five-second rule, you bend over and retrieve your precious pretzel from the filth, and with confidence, shove it into your mouth.   And when I say ‘you’, I mean ‘me’.  Is this gross?  Delusional?  Valid?  How and where did this rule originate?  How universal (or not) is this rule?  Are there any known stipulations?  Is this a rule that we made up to justify consuming millions of particles of bacteria instead of losing our food?  And when does the prestigious ten-second rule apply?  I know, hard questions.  Who has the answers?


  1. If I ever drop food in your vicinity, I encourage you eat my droppings ’cause you’ll never catch me adhering to this inane “rule”.

  2. Well, prior to our move to KC, we had cable and we were big fans of the show Myth Busters. They would do all osrts of experiments to prove/disprove myths. This very one was a subject of an episode.

    They took petri dishes and placed them on various surfaces all over a typical house for 5 seconds. They then let the bacteria dishes grow for a day or two.. I dont recall exactly.

    For starters their results showed that pretty much wherever you drop said item, you are doomed to certain bacterial ingestion… except there was a catch. The bathroom toilet seat, showed extremely little bacterial growth. CRAZY!! And I for one, would NOT try this at home.

  3. molly

    Fascinating. I am happy to receive bona fide information about this rule so quickly. Gross.

  4. Sticky food is pretty much dead once it’s dropped. Supposing the germs miraculously don’t catch on for five seconds, you’re bound to have something fuzzy, gritty, or otherwise inedible stuck to your food. Non-sticky food is subject to the five-second rule. I don’t care what MythBusters say.

    Of course, the surface upon which you drop your non-sticky food makes a difference as well.

    Middle of the kitchen floor – fair game.

    In the kitchen, rolled under the edge of the counter – throw it away. Possibly burn it.

    Living room carpet – worth five or six seconds easily, but watch out for fuzzies.

    Bathroom floor – It’s a little gross that you had food in there in the first place, and you had better not eat it off the floor.

    Anywhere on the ground outdoors – bad news. The worst thing I’ve ever seen is when a friend dropped his glazed Krispy Kreme donut in the grass and then proceeded to pick it up and eat it.

    A public trafficked area like you were talking about – it’s sketchy, but giant pretzels are simply too amazing to allow them to go to waste. I think it might be morally wrong not to eat it in that case.

  5. Molly, according to the Mythbuster’s episode referenced by alaska1, your pretzel would have been much less bacteria-laden if it was sans-mustard. Their testing showed that wet foods (like a piece of lunchmeat) picked up much more bacteria than dry foods (like a cracker). That seems pretty intuitive to me, but it makes me feel better about letting my daughter eat cheerios off the floor.

    They also determined that it pretty much didn’t matter how long the food was on the floor – once initial contact was made, the level of bacteria and general grossness didn’t really increase by waiting a few seconds to pick it up. I’ll remember that the next time my daughter eats a cracker of unknown origin that has been sitting around for days.

    For the record, I probably would have picked up the pretzel, brushed it off (and wiped off the mustard) and eaten it.

    Oh, and welcome to the world of wordcasting. It’s nice to see you here.

  6. Thanks Sarah!

    Amanda, well-said. You established some notable stipulations.

    I agree that it is gross to take food into the bathroom – if someone takes food into the bathroom and drops it on the floor, they are going to eat it no matter what because they are gross.

    You are lucky that the grossest food-drop you’ve ever seen is a Krispy Kreme on the grass. I would see the grass as a kind of buffer.

  7. it all depends on if there is hair on the pretzel. Hair makes everything 10 x’s grosser.

  8. Absolutely. I agree with Jerry Seinfeld though, when he asks why we like hair when it is still attached to someone’s head – then it is beautiful, attractive, cool, what have you. But the moment it is detached from the head, it is suddenly one of the most disgusting things we’ve ever seen. What’s the deal with detached hair being gross?

  9. Jerry James

    I think it has to do with hair being bunched up or not. If someone had just one hair on their head, that would be one gross hair. But then again, if that one hair got detached, it would be even grosser.
    What was the question again?

  10. I don’t remember the question because I’m too busy retching. The thought of that one hair on someone’s head is stirring up all sorts of weird emotions inside of me. Especially if the hair is long.

  11. I love the 5-second rule. I will almost always pick up something and eat it. I usually just brush of any debris and go right ahead.
    Of course, I see this as fine because some of my friends will actually eat out of the trash. I mean they eat other people’s half-eaten food that they have found in a trash bin or dumpster. No kidding. Something about a making a statement about living in a consumer society something something.
    Compared to that, eating my own food off my own flood seems very sanitary.

    Welcome to the blogging/wordcast world Mrs. Molly-Mo

  12. Mrs? Am I going to marry someone with a last name Molly-Mo? I would be Molly Molly-Mo. Funny. I love you, Charity!

  13. I feel like I’m a bit late, and this comment may never see the light of day. Nevertheless, I MUST say something on this topic.

    While you pick up all kinds of bacteria from dropped food, you must also factor in the immune system. A friend once compared immune systems to miliary forces. If you never expose yourself to stuff (by, say, eating food off the ground), then your immune system will be much like the Fench military. Perhaps even like Luxembourg. But if you eat food from the ground, soon your immune system will be like a ninja attack squad! I think you know which one you want.

    In addition to nifty metaphors, my intro to bio class a few semesters ago taught me that kids not exposed to enough germs (like by not living on farms) are waaaaay more likely to have all kinds of allergies than kids who do get their germ exposure. Weird but true.

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