The Fayette Citizen-Opinion Page

Friday, September 27, 2002
About the five-second rule and Genghis Khan

By Rick Ryckeley
Fayette County Fire & Emergency Services

If you don't have children, chances are you've not yet been introduced to the Five Second Rule. As a matter of fact, if you don't have children, chances are you've not yet been introduced to a whole lot of interesting things like the wonderful world of teenagers. But, that's a cynical story for next week. This story is about the Five Second Rule.

Growing up with four brothers, one sister, a green parakeet that ate hush puppies off Dad's head and a swamp for a back yard, I must've lived a sheltered life 'cause until last month, I never heard about the Five Second Rule. During the summer The Wife's sister came down for a two-week visit and brought her daughter and son with her. Seems our nephew was having his tenth birthday and wanted his party at our house.

After dinner everyone had birthday cake and ice cream you know, the traditional stuff. It was during the birthday party that it happened. A forkful of cake was dropped on the floor by the birthday boy, and unbeknownst to me, the Five Second Rule immediately went into effect. Without hesitation, the newly turned ten-year-old reached down, scooped up the piece of cake, tossed it into his mouth, looked at me and smiled. He said, "Five Second Rule," and went on to finish his cake and ice cream.

In horror, I looked at The Boy. "He's right, Dad, the Five Second Rule is automatically in effect during all birthday parties."

Afraid of his answer, I asked, "What in the world is the five second rule?" What in the world indeed.

He replied, "If during breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, or birthdays you drop any food on the ground, carpet, or hardwood floors, you can safely pick it up and eat it. That's if you do it within five seconds of dropping it. After five seconds, time is up and the germs jump on it. This rule applies to all food groups except pudding."

The Wife said she was aware of the rule. Her sister, the birthday boy and The Niece also said they were aware of the rule. The Boy, of course, was an expert about the rule. (I have found out lately that teenagers are experts on most everything. But there I go again; this story is about the Five Second Rule. The cynical teenager story will have to wait 'til next week.) It seemed everyone around the table knew about the Five Second Rule but me.

That night was truly educational to say the least; the following is what I learned about the Five Second Rule.

As to the true origin of the rule nobody really knows; many believe the rule has been around as long as the Golden Rule. Virtually unchanged since olden days, the rule has indeed been around for thousands of years, but it hasn't always been five seconds.

The farther we look back into history the longer duration the Five Second Rule has. For example: Historians have traced the Five Second Rule all the way back to the time of Barbarians and the great Genghis Khan. Back then, the Five Second Rule was known as the Khan Rule.

As his army marched across Europe and Asia, he would present his generals with a great banquet after each victory. At the banquet, Khan made sure there was plenty of food and drinks for everyone and informed his generals of his only banquet rule. "Any food fallen on the floor can stay on the floor for twelve hours or as long as The Great Khan says it can stay on the floor! Trust me - it will still be safe to eat." If an unfortunate soul scooped up his food off the ground many hours after it had fallen and ate it, he would surely die. (Floors weren't too clean back in the 13th century.) If you died this way, the warriors in the camp would say that you had just been Khanned.

Back in Khan's time, eating during war was difficult, but today it's much easier. Nowadays during times of war, the Five Second Rule is suspended of course only by presidential order. The rule is also modified during combat conditions to read, "and any food dropped which is hopping or otherwise crawling away is to be given a three minute head start. But even during combat, any dropped pudding must be left on the ground."

The Five Second Rule also explains why Michelangelo took so long to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Back then, the Five Second Rule was known as the Twenty-Five Minute Rule. Every time he'd drop some food on the floor, Michelangelo had to climb down all of that scaffolding, scoop it up before the time ran out and germs jumped on it. What really slowed him down was Fridays Friday was fig pudding day. If Michel wasn't constantly dropping his food, it might not have taken him four years to complete the ceiling.

In Boston around the 1700s the rule was changed once again and became known as the One Minute Rule. It is well documented that if men dropped food on the ground they had but a minute to scoop it up before germs or the dog jumped on it and rendered it unfit to eat. These men soon became famous for their skill of retrieving fallen food before the dog could. Because of their special skill, they were known through out the land as the famous "Minutemen."

The birthday party ended as most parties do, with the opening of presents. The birthday boy got many gifts, but his favorite was a spy kit complete with large magnifying glass. (Guess he can use it to spy food dropped on the floor before the five seconds are up.) The Wife's sister left our house the following week with one happy nephew, The Niece, and many indestructible toys she hopes. I was left with the added knowledge of the Five Second Rule.

[Rick Ryckeley is employed by the Fayette County Department of Fire and Emergency Services. He can be reached at]

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