We Got a Scientist to Explain What You Knew in Your Heart of Hearts: The Five-Second Rule Is Gross

He also lab-tested double dipping, utensil sharing, and other questionable food behaviors.

Getty

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—and also the germiest. Viruses and bacteria thrive in the winter, and festive gatherings give them plenty of opportunities to circulate.

Luckily for you, this week on the Mother Jones food politics podcast, Bite, our guest has a few bug-dodging tips for this holiday season. Paul Dawson, food scientist and co-author of the new book, Did You Just Eat That?: Two Scientists Explore Double-Dipping, the Five-Second Rule, and other Food Myths in the Lab, joins the show to stress test the five-second rule, double-dipping, and hand dryers, among other things. To learn what Dawson and his team found in the lab, listen to the episode:

Here are five tips from the book for staying healthy this holiday season and beyond:

Don’t share popcorn: Saliva, blood, and fecal matter have been found on theater seats—so Dawson’s team decided to run an experiment: They spritzed participants’ hands with E. coli and then had them grab handfuls of popcorn from a sterile bowl. They found that the more handfuls participants took, the more infected the remaining popcorn became.

Careful with the birthday cake: Dawson and his group found that blowing out birthday candles can transfer bacteria to the cake surface. Basically, every time we breathe we’re emitting bacteria, Dawson said. So there’s cause for concern—especially if the person blowing out the candles is sick.

Avoid air dryers: They blow bacteria around along with the hot air. That’s why there aren’t many hand dryers in hospitals, Dawson said. In one experiment, the team placed petri dishes around a public restroom and found that the air dryers blasted bacteria at least a yard away. “Towel drying does a much better job in helping clean the hands and not spreading germs than the blowers,” Dawson added.

Share food wisely: If you’re tempted to take a bite of someone else’s food, consider using your own utensil, Dawson said. The team found that 70,000 more bacteria per milliliter were transferred to a bowl of broth from a spoon previously placed in the mouth than from an unused spoon.

Wash your hands correctly: Dawson and his group compared various methods, from hand rinsing in cold and hot water to using only hand sanitizer. Based on these experiments, Dawson recommended using soap and water at any temperature for at least 20 seconds, about the length of the song “Happy Birthday” sung twice.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate