A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 02, 2012
Five-Second Rule (for food dropped on the floor)

A “five-second rule” (sometimes given as a “three-second rule") holds that if you pick up food within five seconds of it falling to the floor, that food is still safe to eat. Some people claim that the type of food is important to know (an apple or a pudding, for example), as is the general cleanliness of the floor where the food has fallen. Studies done in the 2000s indicate that germs attach immediately to the food and the “five-second rule” should be a “no-second rule” (food on the floor is unsafe to eat).

The names “five-second rule” and “three-second rule” have been cited in print since at least 2000, and a “twenty second rule” was cited in print in 1995. A story in the New York (NY) Post on June 11, 2000, about whistle-blowing chef Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018) included his explanation of the “three-second rule.”

“The five-second rule doesn’t apply to soup” is a popular exception. “The 5 second rule does not apply when you have a 2 second dog” is a joke on this rule.


Wikipedia: Five-second rule
A common superstition, the five-second rule states that food dropped on the ground will not be contaminated with bacteria if it is picked up within five seconds of being dropped. Some may earnestly believe this assertion, whereas other people employ the rule as a polite social fiction that will allow them to still eat a lightly-contaminated piece of food, despite the potential reservations of their peers.

There are many variations on the rule. Sometimes the time limit is modified. In some variations, the person picking up the food arbitrarily extends the time limit based on the actual amount of time required to retrieve the food.
(...)
Ted Allen put the rule to the test in an episode of Food Detectives, and found that bacteria will cling to food immediately. High traffic areas will lead to even more bacteria on the food.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
second, n. 
humorous. A notional rule which permits the retrieval and consumption of dropped food within the specified period of time.
1995 B. A. Lewis Wanted: Rowing Coach 31 The twenty second rule was always in effect. Any food item that hit the floor was still considered edible if it was retrieved before twenty seconds had expired.
2002 R. Ebert Movie Yearbk. 2003 456/2 Frank follows the Ten-Second Rule, which teaches us that if food is dropped and stays on the ground less than ten seconds, it’s still safe to eat.

Google Books
I Think Therefore I Am:
A Collection of My Thoughts

By Chad Kluck
New York, NY: Vantage Press, Inc.
2000
Pg. 35:
“The Five Second Rule” states: If food is dropped, it shall not lie more than five seconds on the ground, after five seconds germs are allowed to infest the food. I never figured germs had the sense of time and so as soon as food is dropped, I assumed it was one for. Upon hearing this rule, I was happy because less of my food was wasted. I have used this rule several times with ice cream, suckers, hot dogs (there’s nothing on the ground that isn’t already in them), and popsicles.

New York (NY) Post
11 June 2000, New York (NY) Post, “Dirty Dishin’: Whistle-blowing Chef Spills the Beans on City Kitchens” by Barbara Hoffman, pg. 38:
Not that there hasn’t been angry mail, too - mostly from vegetarians ("the enemy of everything good and decent and an affront to all I stand for"), Emeril Lagasse fans and foodies, whom (Anthony—ed.) Bourdain suspects feel “betrayed” by the thought that their favorite restaurants might have been recycling bread or melting down table butter - all practices he says he’s witnessed in his checkered culinary career, along with the “three-second rule”: If you drop something on the floor and pick it up within three seconds -on the bounce - it’s good to go.

“Not everyone would admit knowing about it,” he says, “but it’s true.”

Straight Dope Message Board
Kiki
06-16-2000, 10:20 AM
My brother worked in a fast food joint. They used to serve breakfast until 10:30 and it never failed that at 10:29 they would have someone come through the drive-thru wanting biscuts and gravy after they had already put everything away. My brother told me that they would fix the biscuts and gravy for the person and they would spit in it beforehand. They also had a 3 second rule. If you dropped something on the floor, a hamburger, a bun, pickles, etc., if you picked it up off the floor within 3 seconds you could still use it. They counted awfully slow too.

Google Groups: rec.pets.dogs.breeds
Danae
Jul 17 2000
(...)
I, on the other hand, am firm believer in the “three second rule”—as long as you pick up food off the floor within three seconds it doesn’t count

5 August 2000, The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), “A hot-pot of horrors” by Jackie McGlone, pg. 10:
Beware, he (Anthony Bourdain—ed.) writes, of any restaurant with a dirty bathroom, sullen or unkempt waiting staff, and sushi, pasta, hamburgers and nachos all on one menu. And always be aware of the chef’s “three-second rule”: if you drop something on the floor and pick it up within three seconds - it’s good to go.

4 October 2000, Atlanta (GA)< Constitution, “Drama Queen ‘Regal but earthy diva’: Atlanta actress, director is doing a masterful job steering local theater --- and one very busy life” by Bo Emerson, pg. D1:
“He eats like a teenager,” sighs the 40-ish mother (Jessica Phelps West—ed.), crossing one well-pedicured foot over another. Within seconds her son reappears for another pre-supper bologna sandwich and a few potato chips. “Five- second rule!” chants Taylor, scooping some errant chips off the linoleum floor and wolfing them down.

Straight Dope Message Board
Five Second Rule?
kidchaos
11-20-2000, 03:09 AM
my general rule is that if it bounces, then it’s probably good to eat, with the where-it-landed variable in place.

10 June 2001, The Evening Sun (Hanover, PA), “When does the five-second rule apply?” by Nina Redding, Community Sun sec., pg. 1, col. 6:
As I recalled the story when I got to work, someone reminded me of the “five second rule.” Innocently I said, “What do you mean by the five second rule?” With laughter I was told that if cookies had been on the floor less than five seconds they were safe to eat. I don’t think so! We’re talking the floor and you know the kind of stuff that is on floors.

Google Books
Myth and Ritual in Women’s Detective Fiction
By Christine A. Jackson
Jefferson, NC: McFarland
2002
Pg. 34:
An example is when the “five-second rule” comes into play. The premise goes something like this: the food is “still good” if it has been on the floor for less than five seconds. Considering how many pieces of cookie or candy have been dropped by little hands, children are most grateful for this rule.

Snopes.com Forum
Topic: The “five-second rule” for eating dropped food
JTWildStar
posted 22 October, 2003 09:56 PM
...is just another urban myth, according to this Snopes article.

USA Today
Posted 10/1/2004 9:14 PM Updated 10/4/2004 1:19 PM
‘Combover’ engineers given Ig Nobel awards
By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press Writer
(...)
The 14th annual Ig Nobel awards, handed out by Nobel Prize winners, recognize scientific research that “makes you laugh, then makes you think,” said Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, which gives out the award.

The prizes were awarded in a rowdy ceremony Thursday night at Harvard University. Among the other recipients: the inventor of karaoke and a girl who investigated the validity of the “five-second rule” — commonly applied to dropped food.

New York (NY) Times
Q & A
The 5-Second Rule

By C. CLAIBORNE RAY
Published: February 28, 2011
Q. You know the five-second rule for dropped food? Is it really safe if you pick it up in time?

A. “The five-second rule probably should become the zero-second rule,” said Dr. Roy M. Gulick, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Eating dropped food poses a risk for ingestion of bacteria and subsequent gastrointestinal disease, and the time the food sits on the floor does not change the risk.”

The Herald News (Fall River, MA)
Updated Jan 24, 2012 @ 10:45 AM
A Five Second Lesson about the Five Second Rule
By lostinsuburbiablog
(...)
Anyway, in a recent news report, scientists REFUTED the Five Second Rule.

In the Journal of Applied Microbiology, which is something I routinely read for fun, a study was published that showed that salmonella and other bacteria can live up to four weeks on dry surfaces and immediately transfer to foods.

ABC North Queensland
8 April, 2012 12:08PM AEST
The three second rule
Would you eat a piece of food you had dropped on the ground? What if it was only on the ground for a second? Or three...

(...)
Food technologies research scientist Phillip Button says it’s never safe to eat anything that’s touched the floor.

Kirkus
Anthony Bourdain (1956–2018)
We remember the iconoclastic food writer and broadcaster

By Gregory McNamee on June 8, 2018
If you have ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, as I did for several years, then you know that horrible things happen there, things that, with luck, no customer will ever know about: Food falls to the floor, to be subject to the five-second rule (if you can get it off the ground in five seconds or less, it’s fine), wormy cornmeal turns into expensive polenta, shrimp that is just this side of smelling like durian fruit gets thrown into the sauté pan and covered with butter and garlic.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Monday, July 02, 2012 • Permalink


If the item is something you can wash, such as an apple (and it hasn’t been bruised), can’t you then eat it, assuming you DO wash it? What about an orange, in which case the edible part is protected?

Of course, if you’re a cat, dog, etc., there is a five-hour, or perhaps five-day, rule.

Posted by Rick Blaine  on  07/03  at  08:21 AM

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