NHS Choices - Live Well
We’ve all done it – dropped some food on the floor, picked it up, given it a quick wipe and put it in our mouth.
The theory is that if food dropped on the floor is picked up quickly enough, it’s safe to eat.
While some people are firm believers, others use the rule to convince themselves that it's ok to eat a fallen morsel.
'No matter if it’s at home on the carpet, the kitchen floor or in the street...if you drop it, chuck it.'
Dr Ronald Cutler
Some call it the ‘five-second rule’ others know it as the ‘three-second rule’. Whichever you're familiar with, it certainly isn’t based on science says Dr Ronald Cutler, a microbiologist from Queen Mary, University of London.
To prove what he said Dr Cutler subjected the five-second rule to the rigours of scientific testing.
His trial involved dropping pieces of pizza, apple and buttered toast on different surfaces and analysing them to see what types of germs they collected.
The pizza was dropped on a kitchen floor, the apple was dropped in the street and the buttered side of the toast was dropped on carpet – all for five seconds.Food poisoning
The idea that dirt is 'good' and hygiene somehow 'unnatural' has been popularised in the media.
For those who believe that a little dirt never hurt anyone, here’s a sobering statistic – each year in the UK around a million people suffer a food-related illness.
Of these, about 20,000 people require hospital treatment and up to 500 may die as a result.
Many of these cases could have been avoided through basic hygiene such as hand-washing, and preparing and cooking food properly.
Back in the lab, Dr Cutler analysed the food samples and found that they were all covered in germs compared with control samples that had not been dropped.
“The pizza was covered in bacteria, some of them faecal bacteria,” says Dr Cutler, of Queen Mary, University of London. Faecal bacteria are bacteria found in poo. “I certainly wouldn’t eat it,” he adds.
“The fresh apple slice, which had no real sticky surface, still picked up lots of bacteria – I wouldn’t eat that," Dr Cutler continues.
The toast fared worse. “The butter helped pick up lots of bacteria and I certainly wouldn’t eat that either.”
Dr Cutler also tested a food sample that had been on the floor for less than a second and found it too was contaminated.
“Whether it’s been on the floor for five, three or zero seconds, food still picks up bacteria,” he says.
“No matter if it’s at home on the carpet, the kitchen floor or in the street, my advice is if you drop it, chuck it.”
Dr Cutler’s simple test is backed up by several studies performed in recent years proving that the five-second rule is a complete myth.
Children with special needs can take longer to learn how to eat independently. Read these top tips for mealtimes.
'Learning how to eat neatly is crucial to helping our children to integrate'
Eating a meal can be particularly challenging for children who have disabilities. A lack of fine motor skills (like finding it hard to hold a fork), sensory restrictions (like being paralysed or unable to see) and co-ordination difficulties are some of the many reasons that may delay the learning process. This can be frustrating for you and your child.
Author Deborah French has four children, two of whom have special needs. Her eldest daughter, Amariah, has Down syndrome and her son, Henry, has autism spectrum disorder. "Socialising with others generally includes eating together," she says. "So learning how to eat neatly is crucial to helping our children to integrate."
Deborah, who also runs cookery classes for children with special needs, came to realise that nagging her children about their table manners wasn't working. Instead, she developed practical solutions to help them learn, with rapid results.
Deborah's top tips for happy mealtimes
1. Be patient
"When stress or frustration controls your reactions while trying to teach your child, they will reflect your mood and act accordingly. They will fear your reaction to their mistakes and as a result will not be able to give their best efforts. Give instructions calmly, with positive reinforcement."2. Invest in a funky child-sized apron
"As your child gets older, even though it may still be necessary for them to wear a bib to protect their clothing, this can also be demoralising and embarrassing in front of other family members or peers. An apron is more discreet and will help eliminate any negative feelings your child may harbour before mealtime has even begun."3. Encourage your child to help lay the table
"Irrespective of the nature of your child's disability, take the time to involve them in preparing the table for dinner. Even watching you collect cutlery, cups and napkins helps your child to feel they have participated. During this process talk your child through what you are doing and why. For example: 'We use a fork to pick up pieces of food on our plate instead of our fingers. That way the fork gets dirty and not our fingers'."4. Use heavy cutlery and solid crockery
"As parents, we instinctively opt for plastic or disposable utensils to avoid breakage and to make cleaning up easier. But for a child who has either low or high muscle tone or difficulty with their fine motor skills, a plastic fork simply feels like air. These children need to be able to feel the cutlery they are holding. The same is true for plastic plates and cups, which are unstable and easily knocked over. Solid cutlery and crockery will make it easier to teach your child how to eat."
Find out about other eating equipment that can help.5. Take the time to eat with your child
"If you eat your evening meal later than your child, compromise by ensuring that during your child's mealtime, you too are seated at the table. Even if you enjoy your coffee or a smaller version of what your child is eating, they will be encouraged by your presence. You can then talk about your food and how you eat with your cutlery. Take note of how quickly your child imitates your actions."6. Keep a standalone mirror and wet cloth handy
"The most effective way of teaching self-awareness to a child is to let them view themselves. Even as adults, how often after enjoying a meal with friends have we been unaware that a chunk of food, usually green in colour, has become wedged between our front teeth?
"Apply this theory when helping your child to understand food residue on their face after eating. Before they leave the table, place the mirror in front of them and encourage them to look at their reflection and clean themselves using the wet cloth."7. Encourage your child to clear their place
"Again, irrespective of your child's disability, teach them how to participate in the cleaning up process after eating according to their ability. This may involve them handing their plate to you or taking it to the side to be washed; alternatively wiping their place clean as best they can. Any level of participation helps to develop their self-awareness and obligations at mealtimes.
"It's important to remember that everyone likes to feel valued and needed. When you give your child responsibilities, they feel important to you and the family. This in turn boosts their self-confidence and speeds up the learning process."
Read our interview with Deborah about parenting children with special needs.
Specialist eating and drinking equipment
To help your child learn good eating skills, you may find that specialist eating or drinking equipment will make a real difference. The Caroline Walker Trust, a food charity, recommends a number of helpful aids to eating that parents of children with learning disabilities may find useful for their child.
- Different shaped cups, with one or two handles, of different weights, materials, transparencies and designs. The cups should be designed not to shatter or break if they are bitten.
- A transparent cup can be helpful when helping someone to drink, because you can see how much liquid they're taking.
- Cutlery of differing shapes, sizes, depths and materials. Again, the cutlery shouldn't shatter if it is bitten. Solid plastic cutlery or plastic-coated metal might be better for people who have a bite reflex when cutlery is placed in their mouth. Shorter-handled cutlery is easier to manage and handgrips or irregularly shaped handles may help someone in using a utensil.
- Plates and bowls that do not slip, have higher sides to prevent spillage, or are angled to make access to food easier.
- Insulated crockery that keeps food hot if mealtimes are lengthy.
- Non-slip mats that support crockery.
- Straws, which can help those with a weaker suck and can have different widths.
- Feeding systems that deliver food to the diner's mouth through, for example, a rotating plate and a mechanical or electronically controlled spoon. Some systems are powered, others are hand- or foot-operated.
For more information and details of suppliers, read this factsheet from Disabled Living Foundation.
Deborah French has four children, two of whom have special educational needs. In this interview she explains how she supports them day-to-day and describes the help she receives from others.Henry, 10, has ASD
'As Henry’s parents we make sure that he doesn't consider the ASD as a weakness, but merely part of his wonderful make-up'
Deborah's son Henry is 10 years old and has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Henry’s main difficulties are social ones. From a young age, he was unable to recognise facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and social rules of play, which made it particularly hard for him to fit in at school.
Henry is in a mainstream school and has a full-time helper with him. Deborah feels strongly that Henry benefits by being exposed to the challenges that come with building relationships with friends every day. “It’s tough but rewarding, because he is forced to address and grasp crucial life skills about interacting with others and what constitutes a friendship,” she says.
Henry also finds it hard to recognise that his own behaviour can lead to problems. To help him, Deborah draws pictures showing the different situations that Henry finds himself in. In this way, she is able to help Henry to re-examine what happened. He can then assess the positions of everyone involved at his own pace, taking the time to read and understand facial expressions and body language. As a result, his mother says, “his social life is flourishing”. This technique is similar to those outlined by the National Autistic Society, such as “comic strip conversations”.
Deborah also found that watching the film Temple Grandin (the true story of an autistic scientist) with Henry was helpful, as they were able to watch different scenes and discuss the way people responded to Temple’s behaviour. Henry, who over time has become more aware of his condition, drew comfort from realising that he was not “the only one”.
“What has been important to us as Henry’s parents throughout is to make sure that Henry does not consider the ASD as a weakness, but merely part of his wonderful make-up,” says Deborah.Amariah, 9, has Down syndrome
'The most rewarding part for me is Amariah's smile as she speaks to me'
Deborah's eldest daughter, Amariah, is nine years old and has Down syndrome. She studies at a special education school for children with mild to moderate special needs, and although she is learning to read, she only speaks a few words. "Our current goal is to develop this part of her life,” says Deborah.
To encourage Amariah to speak more, Deborah is teaching her how to create sentences, using her fingers and through repetition. “For example, every morning when I wake her up for school, I say ‘Good morning Amariah,’” explains Deborah.
“While doing so, I put my hand near her face within her direct line of sight and I raise a different finger starting from my thumb as I say each word. I then repeat the process saying the first word ‘good’ and then wait for her to repeat the sentence, prompting her with the next word by raising my index finger.” After only a few days, Amariah was able to say “Good morning Mummy” when she woke up. “The most rewarding part for me is her smile as she speaks to me,” says Deborah.
To help Amariah carry out daily tasks, such as washing, showering and dressing independently, Deborah creates images to illustrate what Amariah needs to do. “I took photographs highlighting the step-by-step process that we all follow in order to get dressed. I laminated them and arranged them in order on a large board, referring to each picture as she got dressed,” explains Deborah.
Amariah is now able to dress and shower with minimal support. She is also learning how to eat correctly.
Deborah’s techniques for helping Amariah are similar to those used in Makaton, a language programme using signs and symbols to help people with special needs learn to communicate. As they grow in confidence, most people naturally drop Makaton in favour of speech.Other family members
Deborah also has twin daughters, now aged four. At the age of two-and-a-half, one of the twins asked why Amariah, then aged seven, didn’t talk. Deborah and her husband chose to explain Amariah’s condition to both girls very simply, encouraging questions. “Although the twins sometimes get frustrated at some of Amariah’s behaviour, they are extremely patient and kind towards her,” says Deborah. “Recently I had the pleasure of hearing both girls take Amariah to the mirror to teach her how to clean her face when she had finished eating.”
Henry also likes to act as Amariah’s advocate, explaining to others why it is difficult for her to speak and play appropriately in the hope of generating patience in both adults and children, and Deborah says she finds this “adorable to watch”. In turn, Amariah is especially sensitive towards Henry, cuddling him when she sees he is upset. “For two children who have both had communication difficulties, they have a very strong connection,” says Deborah.Emotional and practical support
While her children were small, Deborah’s family benefitted from the support of Pre-school Teaching Team, an early intervention service for children with complex special educational needs and disabilities, available through the local council. “Their guidance, support and regular play therapy sessions in our home were very educational and insightful for me,” says Deborah.
When Amariah was born, Deborah joined a local support group for parents of children with special needs. “It was a safe place that I was able to turn to where I felt comfortable to cry or share painful experiences. I have always been of the opinion that ‘a calm mum makes for calm children’”, she says.
In dealing with the challenges of her children’s conditions, Deborah found the most helpful responses came from those family and friends who listened “and gave me a hug when I needed it most”. She also feels it is important that all families take the time to teach their children why some people appear or behave differently. “When children are taught about these differences, they have patience and understanding,” she says.
As a parent of two children with special needs, Deborah has spent a lot of time with doctors and specialists. She comments: “I never met one medical professional or therapist on the NHS who was unkind or unsupportive, although it was clear that their resources were restricted.”Parenting children with special needs
“I am in awe of my children’s inquisitive and happy dispositions and ultimately their ability to melt the hearts of anyone they come into contact with,” says Deborah with obvious pride.
She adds that her children have taught her the art of patience, and that for such a busy person who finds it hard to relax, this is an important lesson to learn. “Life for all of us is so hectic and rushed. When I teach my children, nothing can be rushed. If it is, then they are unable to grasp what I’m teaching them and become unhappy and frustrated.”
Finding out that your child has special needs can lead to many fears and questions for any parent. While Deborah struggled when her children were first diagnosed, within a year of each other, she says that it does get easier. “If you are in the midst of such pain, go easy on yourself and remember to take everything step by step, trust your instinct in all decisions and you will make it through.”More information
Contact a Family brings together the families of children with special needs and gives information and advice. You can phone the free helpline on 0808 808 3555.