A view of downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin by night

Downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by Night

Jelly Beans. Sidewalks. Grandmas. Five-Second Rule. True or False? 

The theory is that if you drop food on the ground and pick it up in less than five seconds, it does not have time to pick up any germs that will hurt you.

My mother’s rule was – you don’t pick up food off the ground.

No matter how long it’s been there. No matter if you were the one who dropped it there.

It was my grandmother who introduced me to the five-second rule, calmly handing me back a piece of candy I’d dropped.

“It’s fine,” she said. “You can eat it.”

And, I did. And, I didn’t get sick. It seems Moms don’t know everything.

I thought the world had changed on its axis.

What Does the Science Say?

Apparently, it takes no time for bacteria to transfer to anything they touch. However, some places you drop food on are dirtier than others.

The type of surface matters, but mostly it’s the germs that matter. Salmonella is bad. But, how do you know if your sidewalk has it? Or, your kitchen floor?

Maybe the sidewalk in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I was walking with my grandmother, was OK. But, what about a sidewalk where dogs are routinely messing?

When my son was an infant, I put him down on the kitchen floor while I was cooking. I washed the floor every day because he blew bubbles of spit on the floor and licked them up again.

I no longer wash the floor every day and occasionally pick food up, like a slice of apple, and wash it off, if I am going to eat it.

But,  not chopped onions, even if they’re going to be cooked. And, not food I would serve anyone else.

Bottom Line

So, my takeaway is, it’s ok not to worry about every little thing. My grandmother was right about that.

But, it’s also right to be sensible and understand that food dropped on the ground will pick up whatever it touches. So, my Mom was right, too.

Did anyone teach you the five-second rule when you were growing up?

Do you believe it?

What food would you pick up and eat? pick up and wash? Pick up and throw away?

Did you teach your kids the five-second rule?

Do your grandkids know it?

To you and the things we learned at Grandma’s knee.

Carol Covin, “Granny-Guru”

Author,”Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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