You may have read or heard about the study debunking the five-second rule. It said that no matter how fast you pick up food that falls on the floor, you will pick up bacteria with it.
Our continued focus on this threat has long baffled me. Why are we so worried about the floor? So many other things are more dangerous than that.
I first became interested in the five-second rule years ago when I was a co-author of a book on medical myths.
We cited a number of studies showing that food that touched household surfaces - even for brief periods of time - could pick up bacteria or other harmful substances.
This most recent study was similar in that it tested a variety of foods and substances for various periods.
And, like those other studies, this one found that food touching the floor, even for a very short amount of time, could pick up bacteria.
There's no magic period of time that prevents transmission.
But even though I know bacteria can accumulate in less than five seconds, I will still eat food that has fallen on my kitchen floor.
Why? Because my kitchen floor isn't really that dirty.
Our metric shouldn't be whether there are more than zero bacteria on the floor. It should be how many bacteria are on the floor compared with other household surfaces.
And in that respect, there are so many places in your house that pose more of a concern than the floor.
Perhaps no one in the United States has spent more time investigating the occurrence of bacteria on public surfaces than Charles Gerba.
He's a professor of microbiology and environmental sciences at the University of Arizona and he has published many papers on the subject.
In 1998, he and his colleagues investigated how well cleaning products could reduce coliform bacteria counts on household surfaces. As part of that research, they measured various locations in the house before any cleaning.
They found that the kitchen floor was likely to harbour, on average, about three colonies a square inch of coliform bacteria (2.75 to be exact). So there are some.
But here's the thing - that's cleaner than both the refrigerator handle (5.37 colonies a square inch) and the kitchen counter (5.75 colonies a square inch).
We spend so much time worrying about what food might have picked up from the floor, but we don't worry about touching the refrigerator.
We also don't seem as worried about food that touches the counter. But the counter is just as dirty, if not dirtier.
The same thing happens in the bathroom.
I know a lot of people who are worried about the toilet seat, but it's cleaner than all the things in the kitchen I just mentioned (0.68 colonies per square inch).
What's dirtier in the bathroom? Almost everything.
The flush handle (34.65 colonies per square inch), the sink faucet (15.84 colonies per square inch) and the counter (1.32 colonies per square inch).
Things get dirty when lots of hands touch them and when we don't think about it.
We worry about the floor and the toilet seat, so we clean them more. We don't think about the refrigerator handle or the faucet handle as much.
If we carry this logic out further, there are things we handle a lot and never really clean.
One study, for instance, found that about 95 per cent of mobile phones carried by healthcare workers were contaminated with nosocomial bacteria.
Of those contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus, more than half were contaminated with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA.
Think about how many people have handled the money in your wallet.
A study of one-dollar bills found that 94 per cent were colonised by bacteria, 7 per cent of which were pathogenic to healthy people and 87 per cent of which were pathogenic to people who were hospitalised or who had compromised immune systems.
Where do you keep your money? In a wallet or purse?
When did you last clean it? It's probably filthy.
I see people pay for food every day and then eat what they're handed with no concern that the food might have been contaminated. And the money and the hands that just held it could be much dirtier than the floor.
There are so many studies out there showing that the things we touch every day are so, so dirty.
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