Paul Dawson: The Five-Second-Rule

Paul Dawson, PhD
Food Scientist, Clemson University

The five-second-rule is a popular belief that if you drop food on the floor and pick it up within five seconds, it won't be too germ laden to eat. It's not true and we've proven it, it's well, bologna. My name is Paul Dawson.  I'm a food scientist at the food science and human nutrition department at Clemson University. 

My students and I have researched the five-second-rule and published the results in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.  We did this as a creative inquiry project to learn how research is done.  That is, research begins with a simple idea or a question, experiment is then set up to test this idea or question, data is collected, and finally a conclusion is drawn based on what the data showed us about that original question.  In the case of the five-second-rule we found that bacteria was transferred from tabletops and floors to the food within five seconds, that is the five second rule is not an accurate guide when it comes to eating food that has fallen on the floor.

My students have done other creative inquiry projects.  We’ve researched what happens when someone double-dips. You have probably seen it happen; someone dips a chip, takes a bite, and then dips a chip again. We have also researched what happens when someone drinks milk out of the carton. 

Both projects showed that these activities are bad ideas when it comes to healthy eating and food safety.  The experiments are not silly but are not only designed to teach students about food science, which is food safety, tasteness and freshness, but also about how research is done and how it affects our daily lives, even if it's about dropping food on the floor.  Most of all Clemson's creative inquiry program is about looking deeper in the world around us, learning how to question the facts and assumptions, whether it be in the arts or the sciences.