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The five-second rule – that it’s fine to eat what’s been dropped on the floor within five seconds – has been around a long time. It has been studied scientifically, testing different foods dropped on contaminated surfaces and left for five seconds. Surfaces ranged from ceramic tiles to wood floors and nylon carpeting, and foods included sticky candies known as “gummi bears,” bologna, bread and cookies.
Regardless of food and surface type, all food that came in contact with contaminated floors quickly picked up the dirt and bacteria it landed on. Contaminants tended to favor the carpet more than the hard surfaces, and the longer the food was in contact, the more bacteria it picked up, which lends some credence to the five-second rule.
Odds are that you won’t get sick if you invoke the five-second rule, and exposure to ordinary dirt and germs may strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk chronic illnesses. But sometimes it takes just a few strains of certain infectious diseases to get sick, so you should use common sense with what fallen food you eat – avoid anything that fell on a hospital or sickroom floor, other surfaces likely to harbor really dangerous organisms such as uncooked meat juices, and any surface that is visibly dirty – it’s not worth it.