Monday, October 20, 2008

Five-Second Rule

The other night I went out drinking for a friend's birthday. After several drinks, I made a quick trip to 7-11 and got a vanilla almond Haagen Dazs ice cream bar. It cost me something like $4, but those things are a-mazing. And everything tastes better at 2am after a few pale ales and bourbons. I also bought it knowing that at least one of my friends would want a bite of it, and I was happy to share. As I walked through Mt. Pleasant from the Raven to Tonic, I savored my first bite of creamy, chocolaty, almondy goodness. Then I handed it over to Jess, who almost dropped it in the handoff, but made a clutch save. I thought to myself, "Damn, I'd have been pretty pissed if she'd dropped my precious Haagen Dazs bar." She took her bite and handed it back to me. And I dropped it on the sidewalk.

"Five-second rule!" Jamie yelled out. I don't know if I'd have done this sober, but I went ahead and picked up the ice cream, examined it for a second, and took another bite. Then Jess had another bite. Then I forgot about it entirely until today. Some would have looked down on Jess and me for eating food, especially food with liquid-ish properties, off a sidewalk in DC. Some might even call us barbaric. "Maybe the kitchen floor in my house, but not the sidewalk!" they'd say.

I don't know if anyone actually believes the five-second rule to be scientific fact. I'm sure bacteria takes much less than five seconds to contaminate a food surface on contact. I would venture to guess that for anyone who follows the rule, it's just an excuse to eat something you really wanted, even after it's slightly tarnished.

I decided to do a little googling to see if there's been any research on this subject, and in fact there was. I found some interesting things. First, women are more likely to eat something off the floor than men. Cookies and candy are more likely to be eaten off the floor than broccoli or cauliflower. The first one makes me snicker. The second one makes me say, "No duh." But there are some actually useful bits of info as well. For instance, although bacteria can transfer in less than five seconds, the amount of time spent in contact with a contaminated surface does affect the number of bacteria transferred. So, although the five-second rule is arbitrary, it does hold up in that, if you're quick about it, you've got a better chance of not getting sick. The difference between five seconds and a minute is tenfold. However, apparently MythBusters tested 2 seconds vs. 6 seconds, and found that there was no difference in the contamination. Another bit of info the researchers (not MythBusters) found was that most surfaces aren't very contaminated at all. They didn't test sidewalks, but the surfaces they did test around the campus of the University of Illinois had so little bacteria that they thought they were doing the tests wrong.

So, what does this mean for the five-second rule? Unclear. You can't really be certain how contaminated a surface is, but I don't see why a sidewalk would be any worse than a kitchen floor. And we eat stuff off tables that could have vermin running around on them when we're not looking. We put our mouths directly on soda cans that have been exposed to the potentially unwashed fingers of vending-machine-fillers. I'm no scientist, but I think the contamination of sidewalk is overrated. So, I conclude that Jess and I did the right thing. Neither of us got sick. And we got to enjoy a few seconds of Haagen Dazs pleasure that a more germ-phobic person would not. So hooray for the five-second rule.

1 comment:

Andrew.G.York said...

Hear hear! Stupid social norms standing between me and delicious.