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The truth behind the '5-Second Rule': When in doubt, throw it out

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The burger patty that slides off the plate, the ice cream treat that plops on the picnic table, the hot dog that rolls off the grill – conventional wisdom has it that you have five seconds to pick it up before it is contaminated.

Fact or folklore?

“A dropped item is immediately contaminated and can’t really be sanitized,” said Jorge Parada, MD, MPH, FACP, FIDSA, medical director of the Infection Prevention and Control Program at Loyola University Health System. “When it comes to folklore, the ‘five-second rule’ should be replaced with ‘When in doubt, throw it out.’ "

All items that come into contact with a surface pick up bacteria (and dirt!). How much bacteria and what kind of microbes it pick up depends on the type of object that is dropped and the surface it is dropped on, he said.

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