The 5 Second Rule: A Frugal Necessity at Our House

If you’re a mom, you’ve no doubt heard of the 5 second rule: if your kid drops a piece of food on the floor, and you pick it up within 5 seconds, it’s still good to eat. Right?

My 5 Second Rule Story

At our house, we live by the 5 second rule. We have to. You see, I have a picky eater. He’s pictured above. He’s also very charming. And very smart.

At the dinner table, he refuses to eat anything he doesn’t like. Unfortunately for him, I don’t fix many dinners that consist entirely of chocolate and potato chips. This presents a problem for my young son.

Because he would just as soon starve than eat anything nutritious, we’ve had to institute a “you need to eat at least x number of bites” rule. That’s when he pulls out the charm.

He starts to poke his food with the fork. It takes him 5 minutes to get the fork to his mouth, and when it’s finally in the vicinity, he throws back his head with a big grin, closes his eyes, and pretends to try to get the food in his mouth. 99% of the time it lands on the floor.

That’s when the 5 second rule comes into play. Trying hard not to laugh, I pick up the piece of food, put it back on his plate, and let him know that he can now eat the food, plus the germs. Ok, I leave out the part about the germs. But I don’t let him waste the food.

Samantha Bee on the 5 Second Rule

Recently I had the opportunity to listen to The Consumer Queen interview Samantha Bee of the Daily Show about the 5 second rule. First of all, Samantha Bee is incredibly funny. Listening to the call brightened a busy day.

Samantha talked about her own use of the 5 second rule, as well as the results of a study by San Diego State University. The study, funded by Clorox, found that some foods picked up bacteria in less than 5 seconds. To read more about the study, visit SimpleandSurprising.com.

Study or no study, I’m unlikely to give up my 5 second rule ways. I hate wasting food (and wasting the money that paid for the food). Besides, my charming and intelligent son would quickly figure out that dropping food would get him out of eating dinner. And we can’t have that, can we?



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By , on Feb 3, 2010
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{72 Comments}

  1. stephanie:

    I have 3 little ones and I hate wasting food as well. We absolutely use the 5 second rule!

  2. Jean:

    I abandoned the five second rule because of pets in the house – I see what their feet walk through outside. Too icky to mention, but I wouldn’t to eat anything off their feet, therefore won’t eat it off the floor – and I keep my house as clean as you possibly can with dogs in the house!

  3. Jeanne:

    I’m not a big fan of the 5-second rule. I don’t keep my floors immaculate, and so consequently I’m not interested in eating ANYTHING that touches them.

  4. Laura Brown:

    We definitely follow the 5 second rule…as long as I saw it hit the floor and can remember when it did, if the Little one will eat it, we blow it off and keep going. We try not to waste food (yet Cheerios and crumbs are a regular part of our day) and the floors are usually clean enough.

  5. karyn sweet:

    My granny didn’t waste anything so she had this rule too, only she would hold the food up towards heaven for the angels to clean it off. I guess that might be even more effective than Clorox.

  6. Germs don’t scare me. In general, I don’t let the floor stop me.

  7. I definitely use the 5 second rule. I’m less likely to use it at a restaurant or outside though. At least in my house I know the last time the floor was mopped and what has been tramping on it since. Mostly the 5 second rule applies to food, but I also use it if I drop a fork or knife. It also generally applied when my kids were still using pacifiers (unless I could actually see gunk on it). What busy mom has time to rinse a pacifier when it falls on the floor every 30 seconds?

  8. Sheila:

    Funny! No, if it goes on the floor, it goes in the trash at our house. However, we’ve never had that many drops, so it’s certainly possible that I would change my mind if we did. I don’t know – we have dogs, so probably not!

  9. boomeyers:

    I use the 5 second rule (only at home!), but I agree, only if the dog doesn’t get it first! I tried to do the tweet thing. Not so good at it, hope it worked! :-p

  10. I am all for the 5 second rule- I have an almost two year old so about half her food ends up on the floor. however, I have two dogs that love my daughter more than ever…or at least they love her at mealtime. Most food that makes it off the table doesn’t make it to the floor, let alone do I have 5 seconds to pick it up! The dogs are getting very fat!

  11. Michelle:

    We have a dog who gets to anything dropped in less than 5 seconds. My kids have been known to use this to their advantage often. :)

  12. Deb:

    We use it, but my house is clean. =)

  13. Emily Lauren:

    5-second rule?!?!

    Strange, I always thought it was the “30-second rule”… and I am willing to stretch that a bit based on what hits the floor. (For a macadamia nut, it would be the 5-minute rule.)

  14. Jenn:

    Most things get pitched in my house, but only because them come up covered in cat hair lol If items are retrieved from the floor with no visible dirt or hair? Still edible!

  15. Susan:

    We have the 10 second rule in our house. In our busy house-hold something inevitably ends up on the floor! Ever cut up carrots? There’s always a jumper in the group. When my niece visits, she manages to make sure that a Cheerio or 2 or 10 finds the linoleum. I keep a fairly clean house – but a few seconds on the floor? No problem!

  16. Lorie:

    Yes, we use the 5 second rule or maybe it’s longer than that some times. We’ll use it on just about any food. My baby is 1 & will eat most anything off the floor. This I try to discourage but some times I haven’t had a chance to sweep, yet.

  17. Jackie from Crazy Cheap!:

    Not everyone should use the 5 second rule. One of my dearest friend’s has the dirtiest house! It’s clean to the look, but walk on the floor with bare feet or socks and they’ll be black within an hour. That being said, the 5 second rule is used in my house, however the dog usually gets to the food before we do, so I can’t say it’s used very often. Our min. Schnauzer has a well balanced diet of dog food, bread, crackers, pasta, gum, candy, lettuce, tomatoes, and whatever else happens to land on the floor that day! It’s a crazy life, but it’s mine!

  18. Zoie:

    We use the 5 second rule since a little germs can’t hurt my son too much. I usually have a semi-clean kitchen floor. LOL

  19. With 3 dogs in the house, we do not use the 5 second rule. When we move out in a few weeks and only have our one dog in the house, we probably will!

  20. I’m ditto with Jean. Because we have cats in the house, we don’t follow any “second” rule. And, if people wear shoes in the house, this would be the same. E-coli, etc. abound everywhere, and our bodies don’t get used to those bacteria. We’ve had several friends and missionaries who travel the world and live in one region for years on end, and they still get serious diarrhea problems from contaminated food no matter how long they live there, and no matter how careful they are to try to sanitize and cook the food long enough to make it safe to eat. And we’re talking about horrible parasites, giant tapeworms, and the like, too. Yuck.

    Now, please don’t take this as an insult to your parenting, because since I know you personally, I know that you are an awesome mom! But I wholeheartedly believe that when children throw or drop food onto the floor, repeatedly, on purpose, no matter what age (8 months or 8 years), it is disrespect to the person who prepared the food. I’m sure you didn’t allow him to do this when he was a baby, and he will hopefully realize that the punishment for doing this won’t make it so much fun anymore.

    It would be sad, though, if he got e-coli or some other parasite (since you have animals in the house) from eating food off of the floor. That would be a punishment he would never forget! Oh, sad.

  21. Vera:

    Well, with animals in the house, the 5 second rule is hard to abide by! It’s more like 1 second and it’s eaten!

  22. kim:

    our “5 second rule” is a bit altered here as we have cats…anything dropped on the floor runs a high chance of getting (unsavory) cat hair on it. so we have the “if you drop it, go wash it off then eat it” rule. :-) thanks for the link on the clorox study as well. i haven’t read it (thought i would post first) yet, but i would be interested in knowing how long a clorox cleaned floor is considered ‘sanitary’ .

    Love your blog!
    -kim

  23. Lynnae, my oldest son was a picky eater. His two foods of choice were hot dogs and peanut butter (at least there was some protein).

    When he was 17 we went on our first cruise. He shocked my husband and I by ordering and eating escargot among other exotic foods.

    As an adult, he’s more adventurous than we are often. It doesn’t help you know, but wanted to let you know this too shall pass.

    P.S. I’m totally into the 5 second rule!

  24. Melissa:

    We use the 5 second rule around here. I have a 2 yr old and a 4 yr old and I have decided that they are going to get germs from so many places that in our house we use the 5 second rule. Sometimes leniently. But it can’t be too long or the dog would have eaten it anyway. :-)

  25. I am not scared of a little germs. ;) It’s funny- just yesterday I posted on not using soap! LOL

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