Five-second, with and without background

The five-second rule is back in the news, its recent scientific history sometimes acknowledged, sometimes not:

The Five-Second Rule Explored, or How Dirty Is That Bologna?

A COUPLE of weeks ago I saw a new scientific paper from Clemson University that struck me as both pioneering and hilarious.

Accompanied by six graphs, two tables and equations whose terms include ?bologna? and ?carpet,? it?s a thorough microbiological study of the five-second rule: the idea that if you pick up a dropped piece of food before you can count to five, it?s O.K. to eat it….

So writes Harold McGee in the May 9, 2007 issue of the New York Times. McGee, a chemist famed for his research into food and cooking, describes a newly published study:

Residence Time and Food Contact Time Effects on Transfer of Salmonella Typhimurium from Tile, Wood and Carpet: Testing the Five-Second Rule, P. Dawson, I. Han, M. Cox, C. Black and L. Simmons, Journal of Applied Microbiology, vol. 102, no. 4, April 2007, Page 945-53.

JillianClarke-Ig-Speech.jpgThe study’s authors build on, but do not overtly acknowledge, the work of 2004 Ig Nobel Public Health Prize winner Jillian Clarke. (Professor McGee, in his newspaper article, does write about Clarke’s achievement.) Clarke, then of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, and now a student at Howard University, was awarded the 2004 Ig Nobel Public Health Prize for “investigating the scientific validity of the Five-Second Rule about whether it’s safe to eat food that’s been dropped on the floor.” The photo here shows Clarke delivering her Ig Nobel acceptance speech.

Now comes a press release, dated May 17, 2007, from Connecticut College. It begins:

‘Five-Second Rule’ for Dropped Food More Like 30, Connecticut College Researchers Find

Two Connecticut College student researchers have found that the “five-second rule” – which stipulates that dropped food will be safe to eat if it stays on the floor for fewer than five seconds – might better be known as the “30-second rule.”

Connecticut College seniors and cell and molecular biology majors Molly Goettsche and Nicole Moin took two food samples – apple slices and Skittles candies – to the Connecticut College dining hall and snack bar. They dropped the foods onto the floors in both locations for five, 10, 30 and 60 second intervals, and also tested them after allowing five minutes to elapse. They then looked for any rogue bacteria that might have attached to the foods….

Science again moves in its customary fashion, one step forward, one back, with now and then a twirling in place.