That Five-Second Rule . . .


I'm curious â€" how many physicians prescribe the five-second rule? The rule that says, you can still eat any food you drop on the ground as long as you pick it up within five seconds of dropping it.

I’m curious — how many physicians prescribe the five-second rule? The rule that says, you can still eat any food you drop on the ground as long as you pick it up within five seconds of dropping it.

I always wondered why it was five seconds. How much extra dirt is a cookie going to collect between five and ten seconds? My theory is that all major contamination is probably going to happen within the first second. It just seems really arbitrary that five seconds is acceptable but anything longer is not.

I did a little further research and learned an interesting fact from the CDC website. “In June 2000, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry appointed a committee to review soil pica [which means repeated soil eating]. The committee settled on pathological levels as consumption of more than 500 mg of soil per day but conceded that the amount selected was arbitrary.”

Translation: a person is considered to be in a mentally disturbed condition based on some random amount of dirt that they consume per day. I’m still not sure why you need to put together an entire committee to pull numbers out of the sky, but I guess that’s just government work. (If you would like to learn more about the committee’s findings, go to and read the summary report.)

In many cultures, eating dirt is actually considered a part of normal culture. In some African and South American regions, pregnant women regularly eat clay, or any soil that is found after digging 60-90cm deep into the ground. It is believed that the clay relieves gastric distress and provides supplemental nutrients.

Children in all cultures have been regularly observed to eat dirt, although they usually do less digging and settle for whatever they can find on the surface of the ground. Most animals are known to consume dirt. But when monkeys do it and appear to receive biological benefits from it, we think it is Discovery Channel worthy. When kids do it, we wonder just how abnormal they will be when they grow up.

We do our best to discourage dirt-eating among children. But when we keep the children away from dirt, somehow the dirt manages to come to the children. These days it’s even questionable as to whether or not this is such a bad thing. Some studies are showing that the lack of contact between humans and bacteria is now starting to cause illnesses. We are too clean, and this is being blamed for the increase in allergies, asthma and hay fever. Lack of exposure to certain bacteria means our immune system doesn’t get as good of a workout.

In experiments where rats, mice, rabbits, and guinea pigs were kept away from dirt and raised in completely sterile conditions, the animals’ immune systems failed to develop normally.

“Without a doubt improved hygiene saves lives, even if it does come at a cost for some individuals—allergies and even some autoimmune diseases are, after all, not as bad as cholera or leprosy,” says Garry Hamilton, author of Let Them Eat Dirt.

Strange as it may seem, a little dirt is good for you. “Children exposed a little more to the infectious face of this world seem to fare better as adults,” explains Gerald Callahan, author of Eating Dirt, which can be found on the CDC website.

“The inherent biologic danger of soil is difficult to assess. Soil unaffected by the pressures of overpopulation, industry, and agriculture may be vastly different from the soil most of us encounter routinely. . . . Evidence of soil as a major cause of disease in humans and other animals is limited. And many reported diseases are the result of an abnormal situation, e.g., industrial pollution or untreated sewage.”

It’s a fine balance, and if you’re living right next to an industrial dump, I wouldn’t recommend living like Shrek.

But I still vote for a five-second extension on the five-second rule. Because really, what’s the rush?

And I could use the extra dirt.

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