We've all done it. We've all dropped an Oreo or two on the ground when no one was looking and called into play the five-second rule. That is, if you pick up the cookie within five seconds, that thing is still fit for consumption. No judgment here.
But should someone deign to judge you, there's no need to be ashamed. You've got science on your side.
According to the Discovery Science Channel's The Quick and the Curious, as long as the food is dry, it's all good if you pick it up within a few seconds. Sure, there will be some inevitable contamination, but the brief timespan generally won't allow for harmful bacteria like E. coli and salmonella to transfer onto the food.
The rule has been put to the test in the past, but the Discovery episode brought the question back to the forefront, assuring a new generation that — under the right circumstances — floor food is indeed safe food.
"When any food flops on the floor, small amounts of bacteria will jump aboard immediately," the video narration explains. "But moist foods left longer than 30 seconds collect 10 times the bacteria than those snapped up after only three."
Harmful bacteria need water to survive, hence the "dry" requirement. And the surface matters too. Wet ground will be more likely to transfer bacteria and a hard ground means your food will come in contact with more surface area — so if you must be clumsy, be clumsy on a carpet. A carpet's woven fibers upon which your cookie tragically bounces and lands provide less surface area than an uncarpeted ground would — meaning less contact with each other.
And it's less likely to break into crumbs, which means more cookie for you! (But that's not science; that's just experience.)
So dine on, sloppy people of the world. You can tell everyone you're simply conducting a science experiment.
Watch the video here: