How Sick Will You Get if You Eat Something Off the Sidewalk?

Can you really eat that cookie that’s fallen to the ground?
Ice Cream on the Ground


Ice cream, anyone?

We’ve all dropped food on the floor at some point in our lives, and have probably been tempted to pick it up and continue eating it (depending on how hungry we are and how much it cost). But if you’re strolling down Main Street USA at Disney World and drop your pretzel, is it really OK to pick it up and keep eating it?

First, let’s address the elephant in the room: the five second rule, which states that as long as dropped food is picked up within five seconds of hitting the floor it’s safe to eat. That’s essentially bunk: The only thing that matters when food is dropped is how sticky it is. If you drop a cracker, because it isn’t sticky, it’s not going to pick up nearly as many bacteria as, say, a slice of cheese.

So let’s say that you happen to drop something really sticky — a piece of candy, say — on a New York City sidewalk, let it get nice and grimy, and then pick it up and pop it back into your mouth. What’ll happen? Well, it depends. If you have a good immune system, absolutely nothing might happen. But bacteria are really nasty, and if you happen to ingest the wrong kind, you can be in for a very bad time. For example, Streptococcus leads to strep throat, E. coli can lead to… well, you know what E. coli does, Vibrio Cholerae leads to cholera, Enteris Salmonella bacteria can give you terrible food poisoning, and Salmonella Typhi causes typhoid fever.


If you drop food on the sidewalk and are thinking about picking it up and eating it, well, you might want to think about all the dogs who trotted (and squatted) on that sidewalk before you came along.