We’ve all been there. You’re running late to work, and in a moment of rushed panic, you drop the delicious blueberry scone you just bought from Starbucks.
You begin to feel the stages of grief set in immediately. Denial comes first (“This didn’t just happen to me!”) followed by anger (“That scone was $5, for God’s sake!”). Not too long after, you find yourself bargaining to the breakfast gods (“Please, if there is a loving and merciful God, the barista just saw what happened and will bring me out another one!”). And finally, many will accept this sad and lonely fate (“This breakfast-less morning is my lot to bear in life and I must press forward with my latte and dignity.”).
There are a select few, however, who never accept this fate. We call these folks the five-second-warriors. These brave men and women buck convention, look God and the bacteria-covered sidewalk right in the eye, and say, “Not today!”
Of course, I am referring to those who follow the five-second rule, that age-old superstition governing someone who drops a food item on the floor; they have exactly five seconds to pick up said item and digest it before contamination sets in.
The origins of the rule are somewhat fuzzy. It’s safe to assume that the rule originally came from the dark, disturbing, and dingy floors of some preschool or kindergarten where words like e coli and salmonella might as well be pig Latin.
In fact, it wasn’t until 2003 that anyone even bothered to see if the five-second rule was true.
That someone was high school student and University of Chicago intern Jillian Clarke. Of the subjects she questioned, 56 percent of men and 70 percent of women had heard of the rule.
Clarke’s research also revealed that there was significant contamination when test food (such as gummy bears) was dropped onto sterile tiles with a measured amount of e coli present. Time didn’t matter; in 10 seconds or two seconds, the food had been totally e coli-ed.
But surprisingly, when Clarke tested the surfaces around the University of Chicago, she found that very few microorganisms were around to spoil a dropped lunch.
For her work, Clarke received the Ig Nobel Prize in 2004. But her results seem to have had little effect on the five-second warriors’ efforts.
That’s probably because most understand the rule for what it really is: a socially acceptable way to shirk the stringent boundaries of social etiquette.
So the next time you drop your chocolate-covered pretzel at Farmers Market, just be sure to yell out, “Five-second rule!” This may not guarantee the safety of your intestines, but it will probably leave your social dignity intact.
Calendar Editor Maeva Considine compiled this week’s Bites, and it was delicious. We want a Bite! Send us your food, wine, and related news at firstname.lastname@example.org.