Nothing is more heartbreaking that getting all geared up to indulge on the perfect snack, only to have a brain snap and drop it on the floor. Luckily, we’ve always had the ‘3 second rule’ to fall back on, a superstition based on the belief that by some miracle, germs will take longer than 3 seconds to discover our snack and infect it.
When you think about, I mean really think about, as great as that would be, thinking that somehow germs have a short attention span and wait before crawling onto our food is a little far fetched. It seems a little too good to be true. But it turns out that it actually could be. Although the safety of eating your dropped food could come down to the ingredients, not the time spent on the floor.
Scientists from Manchester Metropolitan University have found that salty, fatty and processed foods pick up less bacteria from the floor than fresh food (side note: It’s a pretty telling sign when even bacteria doesn’t want to eat your junk food).
To test the unofficial rule of our childhood, researchers used five different foods including ham, biscuits, pasta, jam sandwich and dried fruit. They then tested them all for bacteria picked up after spending three, five and ten seconds on the floor.
Dropped cooked pasta and dried fruit were found to be the quickest to pick up bacteria, with signs of contamination apparent after only three seconds. Bacteria called pseudomonas was identified on both, a common precursor to urinary tract infections and blood poisoning, with klebsiella also found on the dried fruit, another agent of UTI creation.
“Pseudomonas can often be present on mops and each time a floor is cleaned the bacteria is being spread increasing the chance of contamination,” says Lindsay Taylor from Vileda, a cleaning company that backed the study.
However the news was not all doom and gloom. That dropped Monte Carlo may still be edible!
“Ham is a processed meat preserved with salt and nitrates which prevents the growth of most bacteria,” explained MMU technical officer Kathy Lees when talking about the results.
“The bread and jam showed no bacterial growth after time on the floor, which can be linked to the high sugar content of the jam which makes it unlikely to support microbial growth,” explained Lees.
“No specific organisms were detected on the biscuit which has a low water activity level and low adhesion ability.”
While we’re tempted to err on the side of caution and pass on any floor-food, this is pretty great news for the occasional heart-breaking drop, especially during a cheat meal.