Why the 5 Second Rule Does More Harm Than Good

DATE: 9th May, 2016

If you’ve ever watched the show MythBusters, you might remember the episode where the guys went through the validity of the 5-second rule. The results? The myth was busted so much so that according to the Discovery Channel:

"Whoever came up with "five-second rule" had probably just dropped an entire cookie on the ground and needed a sanitary excuse to save it. But according to research from Clemson University food scientist Paul Dawson, that cookie could've picked up toxic salmonella bacteria during that brief time window, especially on a tiled or wooden surface."

And while that's really pretty awful to realize, what’s worse is if your food handler is operating on the same terms.

Biofilms and other pesky bacteria

As any ANSI-accredited food handler program will teach you, nothing is more important than proper safety and hygiene when taking care of/handling food.

According to the New Republic, "hands, foods, and utensils can carry individual bacterial cells, colonies of cells or cells living in communities contained within a protective film that provide protection. These microscopic layers of deposits containing bacteria are known as biofilms and they are found on most surfaces and objects."

These biofilms can prove to be extremely difficult to clean, and are highly resistant to sanitizers. Your food handler should know that by simply keeping your workspace clean from the get-go should assuage the problem, or prevent it altogether.

A few simple, yet profound techniques

According to the popular YouTuber, VSauce, "bacteria adhere to dropped food almost immediately, but time does matter. After five seconds, [researchers] found that the food had acquired anywhere between 500-8,000 bacteria".

So while the 5-second rule is an obvious no-go, there are a few simple food handling and sanitation techniques from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that can help put you on the right path.

  1. Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours of purchasing
  2. Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before handling food/utensils
  3. Hot food should be kept at 140 degrees Fahrenheit and cold food below 40 degrees Fahrenheit
  4. Never cross-contaminate raw meat containers/cutting boards!
  5. Never purchase food past expiration date

For those working in the foodservice industry in any capacity, it’s not only important to adhere to the rules listed out above, but it’s the law to do so. Need to get certified? Enroll in a course today!