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The Three-Second Rule Cleaning industry expert Robert Kravitz looks into the myth of the ‘it’s still good’ rule.


Restaurants and the food service industry have long abided by what is often called the ‘three-second rule’.


Sometimes interpreted as the ‘five-second rule’ or even the ‘10-second rule’, essentially it means that if a food item falls on the floor, as long as it is picked up, wiped off, and rinsed clean within three to 10 seconds, it is safe to consume. However, studies over the past few years have disputed these claims.


In 2016, the Daily Telegraph reported: “Researchers suggest that up to a third of us risk our health by eating dirty food [that has fallen on the floor], as bacteria sticks to food almost instantaneously, meaning many of us could be ingesting bugs such as E. coli and Salmonella.”


If you think the ‘three-second rule’ applies just to restaurants and the food service industry, you best think again. Also in 2016, a study conducted by Dr Ronald Cutler, a microbiologist from Queen Mary University of London, found that fully 81% of British adults regularly pick up and eat food once it’s fallen onto their kitchen floor – or even off the street.


This and other studies have proven that when food falls to the floor, the food can become contaminated even with very brief exposure. But what if the contamination on the floor is old? What if it has been there for several hours before food items fall on the floor?


Another study, published in the Daily Record in 2019, looked into this scenario and found: "Eight hours after bacteria were exposed to the floor, it contaminated bread and bologna in less than five seconds after being dropped. One- minute long contact increased the contamination nearly 10 times that amount."


50 | FLOORCARE & MAINTENANCE


So, how does this relate to COVID-19? To better understand the connection, let's review some facts about floors:


• Floors are the largest reservoir of pathogens in most facilities. When germs and bacteria become airborne, they eventually make their way to floors, where they can survive from a few seconds to a few days, depending on the pathogen.





In a 2017 study reported in the American Journal of Infection Control, floors in five American hospitals were found to test positive for various amounts of methicillin- resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA); vancomycin- resistant enterococci (VRE); and Clostridium difficile (C. difficile). This confirms that serious health-risking pathogens do collect on floors.


• Studies indicate that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 lives on surfaces for about three days. This means that if we come into contact with the virus during this 72-hour period, we could become infected.


• Floors can transfer pathogens to other objects. In the Journal study, fully 57% of contaminated objects had encountered the floors.


• Mark Warner, CMI Education manager at ISSA, says we have ‘50 direct and indirect contacts with floors every day’. According to Warner, every time we place an object – a purse, a briefcase, a backpack – on the floor and then pick it up, there is a possibility we will indirectly come into contact with pathogens.


• Floors are typically cleaned using fomites.


This last point needs some explanation. Fomites are objects or materials that carry infection. These can be clothes,


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