Floored by the 'ten-second rule'

Recently we were at a neighborhood dinner party where we witnessed, during food preparation, the continuation of the age-old "10-seconds" theory. This is a concept that allows dropped food to remain on the floor for up to 10 seconds before serious food spoilage sets in.

A number of years ago we were at another neighborhood holiday party when one of the toddlers' moms first mentioned the assumption.

"Little Jason," Susie said to me, "was out in the kitchen with me yesterday afternoon. He was eating an apple that I had sliced up in pieces for him, and he dropped an apple wedge.

"Quick," Susie yelled at Jason, "you've got 10 seconds! Pick it up - you can still eat it."

"What?" I asked incredulously.

"Haven't you ever heard of the 10-second rule?" she asked me with a look of almost total amazement. "We were raised on it. I thought everybody knew about the 10-second rule. It's sure a good thing that you don't have any kids - you'd never survive."

"Just what are you talking about?" I queried.

"This could be a long story," another voice said. It was Mike, Susie's husband, who then advised, "Better make sure your wineglass is full."

"I thought everybody knew," Susie started into her story, "that it takes 10 seconds for germs, or some other undesirable scum, to start growing on food that you've just dropped. It's a proven fact, not just some old biddy's tale; mothers have been using it successfully for centuries.

"If you're quick and brush it off - or even better, wash off whatever you've dropped - you can add even a few more seconds of safe time."

Mike chipped in, edging his way further into the conversation: "We were back in Michigan one year." (Being one-time Michigan residents ourselves helped us to understand the convoluted logic, even if we didn't have any kids.) "It was for Thanksgiving."

"... Of course, you've got to use some common sense," Susie continued. "You can't be outside and drop your food in the dirt."

"I'm trying to tell 'em about your father," Mike horned back in. "Do you mind?

"Anyway," Mike went on, "we were up in Pigeon - do you know where that is, up in the "thumb" of Michigan? Look at the back of your left hand; Pigeon's about where your thumbnail starts - an' it had already snowed."

I knew well the territory Mike was speaking of. The Great Lakes act like an enormous flue that stretches all the way up the Straits of Mackinac, then up into the frozen Great North Woods of Canada, and the cold wind howls down the lakes like an enormous chimney.

In the cold, the wind slices you into little pieces and then puts you back together, only to slice you up again the other way. It was cold out on the empty sugar beet and bean fields of Pigeon.

"Susie's mother," Mike continued on with his story, "is cooking the turkey, and under it was this contraption made of metal chains and straps that are supposed to help you get the bird out of the roasting pan.

"About half an hour before dinner, the roaster is taken out of the oven. It takes two people. It's a big bird - remember, the whole family is there - and it's uncovered. The bird is beautiful."

"Why is it," Susie demanded to know, "that the only time men come around a kitchen is when there's something to be cooked over an open flame, something to be carved or there are corks to be pulled? Gee, they can burn meat, work a knife and pour drinks. Basic survival. Not too primitive are you, guys?"

"Anyway," Mike continues the story with a slightly perturbed look at Susie, "to get the turkey out of the roaster and onto the platter, Susie's dad takes hold of both sides of this chain gizmo and tries to lift the turkey out. He can't get a good grip on it, so I try to help out from the other side.

"So, soon, this glorious golden bird," Susie butts in again, "is skidding its greasy way across the linoleum because those two dropped it. And all the kids are going nuts yelling '10 SECONDS, 10 SECONDS!' and jumping up and down. We grabbed it, got it all washed off and dinner wasn't too late."

"Didn't I tell you," Mike asked, "that you'd want a full glass of wine?"

Ten seconds or less, though, seems about the right amount of time that you can retrieve edible goodies off the floor. Of course, you can't be dropping stuff into mud, but onto a reasonably clean floor, you've got about 10 seconds before the cat grabs it.

(The opinions of columnists, scientific or otherwise, do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Magnolia News, which cannot verify if a scrap of food left on the floor for 10 seconds or less is actually safe to eat. Good story, though...)

Gary McDaniel is a freelance writer living in Magnolia.[[In-content Ad]]