Is Eating Food Dropped on the Floor Okay?

You’re hungry, and you’re chowing down fast. One of the French fries you’re feeding into your face falls to the ground. Can you avoid illness if you pick up your lunch off the floor really quickly — before the germs jump on? Does the 5-second rule keep you safe?

For a long time, people have passed around the rumor that you have 5 seconds to grab any edible you’ve dropped . . . if you plan on popping it into your mouth. Beyond the 5-second mark, you have no guarantee that dangerous bacteria haven’t gotten word of your clumsiness. At 5 seconds and beyond, you’re risking sickness (maybe even death?).

According to scientists who tested the 5-second rule, quickness doesn’t count for much. Creepy things are everywhere, all the time – on our skin, on our clothes, in the air, and especially on those spots where food hits the floor.

Floors -- whether they’re carpeted, tiled, laid out in linoleum, or surfaced in something else (like dirt) – are pathways for all sorts of things, including shoe (and animal) bottoms. Some of the bugs we encounter are harmless, maybe even helpful. Then there are those nasty guys.

Truth is, anything that lands on the floor starts picking up germs in waiting right away. The longer it stays, the more microscopic critters it acquires. If a food is wet or sticky, it invites faster action among its hitchhikers.

Within a few seconds, that hot and greasy French fry could haul in enough grossness to make you gag – later, literally. Pair that surprise with a bout of diarrhea, or even a trip to the hospital (really bad bugs, or a vulnerable body because of underlying illness, medications, or plain old stress), and you're wise to resist the temptation to plant the fry anywhere but the trash.

Your best dining plan is to keep your food focused on your plate, your silverware, and your mouth. (And who knows where those have been!) Go with your gut if you drop some food on the floor — are you going to be better or worse off if you take a chance and stuff it in your face?