Hit the Deck

Five second rule?
Five second rule?

Do you believe in the five second rule? You know, you drop something edible on the ground and you have five seconds to pick it up and eat it before it becomes contaminated. Honestly, I never heard of the five second rule until I was an adult, and I’m really not sure what to think of it, logically. Or scientifically.

What are the implications? Germs are slow? Or that there is some kind of temporary force field around the food that lasts five seconds, then dirt, germs, debris, or other matter can adhere to the food? I don’t know, like I said, logically, and scientifically, I don’t think it makes much sense.

That being said, I do often believe in the five second rule, if for no other reason, it is so much easier to state “five second rule” as you stoop down to pick up a dropped morsel of food than it is to try to explain your actions long hand. It is universal, everyone knows what you mean and what action you are about to take. I also frequently employ the five second rule. Does that mean I am a clutz and drop my food often? Or that while I espouse the virtues of wholesome food and only putting pure things into my body, I am somewhat hypocritical in consuming fallen and possibly tainted food? Truthfully, I am not a germaphobe, in most situations. At least in dry conditions. My germaphobia kicks in in damp, moist, steamy conditions or when there are puddles of water from natural or unnatural sources. I actually like to think I embrace germs, I am a germ advocate. I don’t use hand sanitizers or anti-microbial hand soap, dish soap, surface cleaners or things of that ilk. Pretty much, I am against the use of those types of products not because I like germs, but because I fear the evolution of “super germs”, resistant to all germ-fighting solutions. And, I further believe, that by being exposed to common germs on a regular basis, that I am building up a natural tolerance to them, and in fact, decreasing the likelihood that those germs can make me sick. I don’t know. I’m a blogger, and an accountant, and a fool, and I have no scientific basis for any of this. But, it seems to work for me, for whatever reason.

For those of us, the many of us, who believe in and employ the five second rule, this brings me to it’s practical application and a wee bit of confusion surrounding it. In that five seconds, as the food hits the ground, it seems we all apply some sort of very complex, very personal and inconsistent risk analysis to the situation, weighing the conditions, the variables, the economic value of the food, the environmental conditions, factors and other elements, a cost/benefit analysis and decide whether we will retrieve and eat the food, retrieve and discard the food, or, in the worst of conditions, leave the food where it is, deciding it is just too far gone to even touch with bare hands. And for the latter, I have seen said food picked up, but only with the aid of a paper napkin, tissue or some other protective barrier, before being discarded. I wish I knew which germs we were so fearsome as all that!

While pondering all of this over a cup of coffee this morning, after dropping a square of chocolate on the floor, snatching it up and popping it into my mouth as my mother looked on in disgust and horror, I thought I’d share my own internal code of conduct for the five second rule. Here goes.

The five second rule, when will I DO IT?

I will do it in the dirt. I like dirt, I think it’s great. If food is dropped in the dirt, unless there is mud or dust clinging to it, I have no problem ingesting that food. I can think of only one time I didn’t do it in the dirt. I was backpacking in New Mexico with a group of seven or eight Venture Scouts, boys and girls, all between the ages of fourteen and eighteen years old. There was only one other adult along on the trek. It was our third day, or so, on a ten-day trek. We’d had a really, really rough day. One of the kids had sustained a concussion at the rock climbing camp, the symptoms of which did not manifest until we were a few hard miles into our day, on our way to our next camp. We had ten miles or so ahead of us when she could go no further, and we decided it was easier to go forward, than back, to get help and evacuate her. This required carrying her in a two-man carry down a single track trail into a steep canyon to a service road. Once at the service road, my daughter, my son and a couple of other kids were sent down the steep service road, at a run, a couple of miles to the highway, with full backpacks, just in case, where they flagged down a passing vehicle for help. Two youths went back to base camp in the vehicle, and my daughter and son ran back up the steep road, with full packs, to where we waited. Camp staff came in a vehicle and retrieved our fallen hiker and, in order to “officially complete our trek”, we were told to keep hiking. By now it was nearly evening and we still had several miles to go. We were hungry, had limited food and now, limited water. We hiked and hiked and hiked, into the darkness and into the middle of the night. A few miles from our destination, morale was very low and exhaustion and low blood sugar were setting in. I did my best to keep the group moving and upbeat by playing word games and singing songs as we hiked. I was down to my last trail snack, a package of two Nutter Butter cookies. My daughter was near delirium, and tears, with hunger and exhaustion, so I decided to share with her. As I handed her one of the last two Nutter Butters, she dropped it onto the dusty trail. And with that dropped cookie, her spirit, her willingness to go on, also plopped into the dust. I used my headlamp to try to find the cookie, and couldn’t. I gave her mine and with a little more determination, we made it to the next staffed camp. So, only under extraordinary circumstances, and poor visibility, will I leave food in the dirt, at least out in the woods.

My willingness to do it in the dirt will vary depending on the nature of the dirt. My backyard, sure, unless I suspect someone has fertilized recently, naturally or unnaturally. At a public park, I am perhaps, less likely to devour the fallen food, depending on my assessment of the foot traffic, and by which species the foot traffic was generated. Rats, no. Dogs, probably not. Deer, bear, raccoons, perhaps. I have no justification for this whatsoever, and the decision is made without conscious contemplation and in mere seconds.

I’ll do it on the kitchen floor. Usually. Again, unless there is water or visible dirt on the floor, or unusual foot traffic, like at a party. Or, worst of all, if the floor is sticky. But normally, I will eat food that has fallen on the kitchen floor. This morning, I did. I ate the piece of chocolate that fell to the floor. Now, on retrospect, I’m not sure that was the best idea, as it was my mother’s kitchen floor, which means it was spotless, but only because she uses every commercial, chemical cleaning product the grocery store has available in her constant war on dirt. I probably ingested chemically tainted organic, fair-trade chocolate. Blech!

Believe it or not, I won’t always do it on the kitchen countertop or table. What danger here? Purses. I know that germs can’t survive long on dry surfaces, at least that’s what I’ve been led to understand. And the likelihood of germs being picked up on the bottom of a purse that has been set in a less than hygienic resting place, which, if you think about it, is just about anywhere a purse might be set, and then surviving on the bottom of the purse for some period of time, only to jump off the purse, or crawl, I guess, depending on the athletic capability of the germ, onto the kitchen counter where the purse has been subsequently deposited, and then leap, or climb, or scramble, onto my piece of food, that has fallen to the counter is, at best, extremely remote. But still, if there is a purse, or there has been a purse, on the counter or table, the fallen food is, in an instant, deemed inedible.

But, I will do it on the bathroom floor. If it’s mine. And depending on the proximity of the dropped delectable, to the toilet. The proximity to the toilet also has a variable. If it is near the front of the toilet and there have been no male visitors since the last mopping, the food is okay. If the food falls near the rear of the toilet, where it is difficult to reach for a thorough cleaning and where the hair and dust tends to accumulate, not a chance. Again, if any water is present, anywhere, on the bathroom floor, the food becomes unsalvageable, all other factors negated.

I won’t do it on the floor in a restaurant, even though I know that floor probably gets cleaned more often than the floors in my own home. Additionally, I won’t FORK on the floor in a restaurant, but I’ll probably napkin. Allow me to explain, and I think this is quite common per my observations; if a fork falls to the floor in a restaurant, there is usually a hasty request for a new fork and we usually won’t even dare pick up the fallen fork for some unstated fear of dirt, germs, or contaminants. But, oddly enough, if a napkin falls to the floor in a restaurant, many people, myself included, will pick it up and continue to use it. Is there some property fabric has that repels the germs and dirt we fear, that stainless steel utensils do not? Just curious.

I won’t usually do it on the street, but I might do it on the sidewalk, if it is dry and the foot traffic seems to be generated by bright, happy, clean looking people. If food falls onto a sidewalk in an area populated with foot traffic of the down-trodden, dirty or unhappy looking people, I am not even considering picking up the food for consumption. In whatever risk matrix my mind employs, the germs differ between these two groups of people.

I might do it on the couch, but believe it or not, I have some friends with couches I won’t do it on, and that I even hesitate to sit on. Some couches are that disgusting, and if I do sit on them, I find that I wish to remove my clothes directly to the washing machine upon my return home. But, I will do it on most couches, especially if the food is greasy or in a sauce or may, in some way, stain the fabric, I will pop that food into my mouth so quickly, for the sake of stain avoidance, you won’t even see my hand move.

I may do it on hotel floors, which is funny, because there are very few hotel floors I consider sanitary enough to walk on in my bare feet. Have you ever walked barefoot in a hotel room, only to find when you shower you are standing in a pool of visibly dirty water? Yes, hotel floors are often that dirty. I always carry, and wear, my fuzzy, leopard print slippers with me. But, fallen food, depending on the general and overall “hee-bee-gee-bee factor” of the hotel, I will often go ahead and ingest. The “hee-bee-gee-bee factor” is a complex measure of a hotel property based on many variables including; the city it is situated in, the curb overall appeal of the hotel, the age, make and model of the cars parked in the lot, the friendliness, helpfulness and cleanliness of the front desk staff, whether overly powerful air fresheners are being used in the lobby, or in the guest rooms, the use of natural and artificial lighting, the color of the decor, accents and upholstery, whether the property is a smoking or non-smoking property, and of course, the quality and age of the appointments in the guest rooms themselves, including, but not limited to, the size, scent and fluffiness of the towels, the brand-name of the complimentary shampoo, conditioner and lotion and the number of well lit mirrors in the room, and whether any of them are full length mirrors. All of this is considered in that critical five seconds between the food hitting the floor and the action ultimately taken with that bit of food.

The food itself also plays into the assessment of risk when it hits the deck. Cooked food is less likely to be consumed after it has fallen, while raw food, especially if it is going to undergo any type of cooking, is much more likely to be rescued and used. This, I think, is far more logical, because the application of heat, I think, will kill any athletic germs that may now be clinging to the scrap of food, wickedly laughing at the prospect of making us ill. Also, chocolate, and other “high value” foods, are more likely to be resurrected than, say, a shred of cabbage, steak over a piece of hot dog, etc. Am I right?

I’m really not sure what it says about us, the folks who live by the five second rule. And I’m not sure how to even begin deciphering all the different, personal applications of the five second rule. I only know that when food hits the deck, wherever, whenever, some of us will pick it up and eat it, and others won’t. I am considering writing up a proposal for grant money to fund a comprehensive study of this phenomenon! I will have to interview many people, observe many people, and painstakingly document my findings. So, do me a favor, the next time you have a food mishap, consider the actions that follow in that critical five seconds before you decide to eat it, or leave it. If your food hits the deck, will you do it?

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