Mum’s 5 second rule is a common misconception with dangerous consequences. The rule goes along the lines that food dropped on a contaminated surface, i.e. the floor, is safe to be eaten if contact has not been for longer than 5 seconds.
This is totally incorrect and a very dangerous practice but what are Mums meant to believe? Some say we need to expose our children to germs so that they can develop immunity, so what is proven fact? Surely in this modern age there are studies, facts and guidelines? There are, this article provides a simplified explanation of those guidelines and provides resources for further reading.
Firstly what do we know about why Mum’s 5 second rule is incorrect? A thorough detailed study conducted by Professor Paul L Dawson of Clemson University (USA) in 2006 concluded without any doubt that bacteria transfer takes place. The study used high levels of salmonella on wood, floor tiles and nylon carpet. Alarmingly they found that bacteria were still present after 28 days in a dry environment. 8 hours after the surfaces were infected food dropped and retrieved within 5 seconds was contaminated with salmonella. Food left in surface contact for 60 seconds was found to have 10 times more bacteria. In fact there was no significant difference in bacteria levels for food left down between 2 and 6 seconds. Influencing factors include the presence of water and the area where the food was dropped, high traffic areas carrying a much greater risk.
With bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics it is clear that caution should be exercised particularly in the case of very young or vulnerable children.
A World Health Organisation report in 2003 stated that almost 40% of reported food poisoning outbreaks in Europe were a result of food eaten in the home. In cases of salmonella in babies for example, the majority of infections sources were found to be people and pets rather than infected food.
Sally Bloomfield, Cleanliness Expert for the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene states that most germs are spread on the hands or surfaces that come into contact with the hands including cleaning cloths and utensils. The fact is that the majority of germs enter the home environment on people, food and pets.
So how best to understand the guidelines and put effective measures in place without becoming germ obsessed?
Firstly it is important to understand that micro-organisms are vital to humans and the environment. Germs are part of this; we only need to be concerned about bacteria, fungi and viruses. Our homes may look spotless but research has proven that they are not as clean as they should be and generally not as hygienically clean as authority regulated commercial arenas.
Evidence shows that certain areas of the home act as ‘reservoirs of infection’. These reservoirs are therefore high risk hotspots that should constantly have a hygienic focus. Bacteria do not grow without moisture and do eventually die when they dry out, it follows therefore that these hotspots are wet areas. They include sinks, U-tubes, toilets, wet cleaning and face cloths.
Targeted Cleaning is the way forward
Targeted cleaning is a system of regularly cleaning and disinfecting area that are at greater risk of infection as opposed to a general once a week clean. This method has been found to be far more effective in microbe tests.
Higher risk areas can be grouped into 4 categories:
1)High Risk – Reservoir Sites
These are the wet sites including toilet bowls, u-tubes of all sinks, washing up bowls, nappy buckets, baby changing areas and draining boards
2)High Risk – Reservoir DisseminatorsThese areas involve the many items and utensils used around or within the reservoir sites. These include cleaning utensils, particularly dishcloths, sponges and mops etc. Also bathroom accessories such as cloths, flannels, nail and tooth brushes.
3)Medium Risk – Contact Surfaces
Contact surfaces include both hand and food contact surfaces. Hand contact areas include the obvious such as toilet flush handles, toilet seats, taps and door handles. Additionally anything regularly touched by multiple people such as light switches or telephones. Food contact surfaces include chopping boards, kitchen tops, fridges, eating utensils and cookware. Of particular importance here is baby feeding equipment, toys, cot railings etc.
4)Low Risk – Other Surfaces
Such surfaces are generally low risk unless the areas in question have come into contact with contamination such as vomit or faeces. These surfaces include all floors and furniture.
There is nothing more important than the health and well being of our children. Hygienic homes are the result of regular, sustained cleaning practice and the right cleaning products. The risk of infection is always much lower when parents adopt a habitual regime, passing good practice onto their children.