Food myths: can you recognise one when you see one?

Sometimes science is a great help, for example with the ever-popular five-second rule. A new research was published recently, reminding us that it has no scientific foundation: if you pick up food from the floor, it’s not going to be as clean as it was before you dropped it, no matter how fast your reflexes are. Bacteria have no lag time, so contamination starts as soon as food touches the floor.

Although this myth was busted several times in the past, this new research provided some insight on a more interesting aspect: is food that fell on the floor still safe to eat, although definitely not clean?

That depends on a few factors.

Type of food. Moisture, for example, is a dirt magnet: all things being equal, a piece of melon will gather way more bacteria than, say, almonds.

The type of surface.  Despite their reputation as dirt collectors, carpets offer a smaller contact area, so they tend to be less contaminated than steel or ceramics.

Time of exposure. Behind any myth there is always a little bit of truth. Contamination starts immediately, but the longer the food stays on the floor, the more bacteria it will collect.

Last, but not least, the most obvious one: how dirty is the kitchen floor? We tend to think that no matter how often we wipe it, it will never be clean enough. As it turns out however, that would not be the most contaminated part of the kitchen: fridge handles, sponges, and counters can be much worse.

With myths like the five-second rule, science went to great lengths to sort facts from lore. Sometimes however, food myths are actually fostered by science, or something that comes off as science.

One example is oysters’ aphrodisiac qualities. A few years ago, a study finally made official what Giacomo Casanova – probably their first and biggest promoter – had always known: oysters do indeed contain a libido-boosting substance.

Except that oysters were never the subject of that study, in fact there was never a study at all. You can read the full story here, but basically it all started when a team of non-researchers used the word “aphrodisiac” to present the non-results of a non-investigation.

Once the a-word was spoken though, it was all too easy for the media to blow the whole thing out of proportion.

Verifying all claims around food can quickly turn into a rabbit hole. Perhaps the wisest thing to do is let Michael Pollan’s famous saying be our guideline: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Oh, and wash your kitchen sponges too.