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WOLF: Do you follow the ‘5-second rule’ when it comes to food?

COLUMN: Interesting old tales have a long shelf life in my mind
This lollipop was on the ground for less than five seconds. Still good? (Philip Wolf photo)

When was the last time you had a lollipop?

For me, it had been so long I can’t remember. So when the chance presented it recently, I took it.

I had purchased a kid’s meal at a fast food place for the rapidly growing 12-year-old in our house.

Turns out, it wasn’t nearly enough for his ravenous appetite, but that’s a story for another day.

Within that ‘tastes good, not so good for you’ package was a lollipop.

He left it behind.

“You want that?” I asked.

“No. Help yourself.”

“Most excellent,” I thought.

I took off its plastic cover, got in one furtive lick before the other ravenous beast in the house – the dog – came rumbling over to see if it was a treat for him.

As I tried to slip past him, I dropped the lollipop.

Shouting “no” at the dog, I grabbed quickly for the candy.

My internal monologue automatically went “five-second rule.”

That rule, of course, being the old adage that if you drop some food but pick it up within five seconds, there won’t be enough time for nasty bacteria to attack.

I can still remember the exact minute I first heard the term. I was maybe five, and my Gramps was passing me a burger made on the barbecue. I dropped it and became instantly sad.

Gramps pounced, much like I did many times later in life, scooped it up and proclaimed “five-second rule.”

He explained it to me and I happily ate the burger with no ill effects.

I also didn’t understand how a little dirt would put hair on my chest, but I didn’t question that either.

Now, we’re able to immediately look up things like this, and I can quickly learn that scientific studies have shown that bacteria can transfer to food almost instantly upon contact with contaminated surfaces, regardless of how quickly you pick it up.


Even knowing that, I still just gave the lollipop a quick rinse, finished it in about two chomps and that was that.

It got me wondering what type of other old gems of advice we used to get, and how they stand up today.

Remember “don’t sit within six feet of the TV or you’ll go blind”?

The parents said this, conveniently ignoring the fact we had to lie on the ground right in front of the TV to be low enough to avoid the cloud of toxic cigarette smoke that filled the room.

“Don’t go outside with wet hair; you’ll catch a cold.”

I still think about that every time I go out after hopping in the shower – even after looking it up and seeing colds are caused by viruses, not temperature exposure.

“Eating carrots will improve your eyesight.”

Maybe partially true, since Vitamin A is good for eye health, but I questioned that right from the start.

“Mum, how come you need glasses but you’re always eating carrots?”

“How come Bugs Bunny can’t see like Superman?”

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Another one:

“If you cross your eyes, they’ll stay that way.”

This may have been meant to make me stop making goofy faces at my sister but even then I knew my eyes wouldn’t stay that way.

How did I know?

Because I went into the bathroom and timed how long I could hold the silly pose, and nothing happened.

“Don’t swallow gum; it takes seven years to digest.”

This one was kind of scary.

I remember accidentally swallowing gum a few times as a kid and thinking it would be lodge in there and block things up. Today, I learn that you may not be able to digest it, but it proceeds through just like anything else.


Along the same lines: “If you swallow watermelon seeds they will grow in your stomach.”

This was also mildly scary, but watermelon was so good it was worth the risk.

“Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.”

Strictly designed to make you stop making the annoying sounds. For one, I didn’t know what arthritis was. But two, I do have arthritic knees, so maybe there was something there.

Can you remember old tales like that your parents told you? I’d love to hear them.

PQB News/VI Free Daily editor Philip Wolf welcomes your questions, comments and story ideas. He can be reached at 250-905-0019 or by email at

Philip Wolf

About the Author: Philip Wolf

I’ve been involved with journalism on Vancouver Island for more than 30 years, beginning as a teenage holiday fill-in at the old Cowichan News Leader.
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