Five-Second Rule? How about the Five-Year Rule??

ImageMy Facebook feed this morning delivered up a post by Outside Magazine, citing a New York Daily News article, that reported on a recent study from researchers at Ashton University in the UK.  The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon point?  It turns out the amount of time a morsel of food spends on the ground bears a direct correlation to whether you should pick up the morsel and eat it.  Interesting study.  Interesting conclusion.  Good to know. 

I think the researchers set their sights too low, however.  They apparently stopped the clock at 30 seconds of floor contact.  I think they should have measured the bacteria count after a number of years, forget about seconds.  And the hypothesis tested should be the point after which the discarded or forgotten or newly-discovered morsel will kill the prospective eater. 

That sweet photo of the pudgy-toed toddler and upside down ice cream cone in the photo above, smartly deployed by Outside Magazine courtesy of Getty Images?  That’s nothin’.  I don’t know any parent who hasn’t dealt with that kind of pedestrian incident, walking down a dark, gum-spot covered sidewalk, not even breaking stride.  The sand or topsoil or even minute shards of glass just make the ice cream treat all the more unique.  Kidding about the glass shards.  I think.

I’m more interested in whether the energy gel I recently ate will make me drop dead while mashing it up in my mouth, or maybe give me gangrene of the belly in a few hours or days. 

You see, in a pinch, I will eat just about anything.  This is the case mostly due to the fact that I’ve been burning (a slow burn, mind you) through running shoes, bike seats, and swim goggles for 15 or 16 years now.  Upon leaving private law practice, I took up representing some professional endurance athletes, helping them with sponsorship and such.  And soon thereafter, I bought a local marathon.  That meant that I had access to storage lockers full of Zone Perfect bars, PowerBar gels, Clifbars, Clif Shots, Accelerade, Sport Beanz, Endurox, and bags and bottles full of dozens of products I simply can’t bring back to mind all these years later.  All this stuff basically fueled my mediocre competitive triathlon “career” as an age grouper.  For longer than my kids have been alive.

And it’s all gone.  The piles of boxes are long gone.

Except for the occasional bar or gel or bean or powder in a Ziploc bag that I’ll scrape from the bottom of a backpack I’ve unearthed in the back of a closet.  Or scooped out of my older son’s bedside table drawer, chocked full of goodies from when the drawer belonged to me.  Or stuffed into the pocket of a jacket I haven’t worn for years. 

Example. I used to love the “green apple” gels that PowerBar made.  I had a ton of those from, oh, maybe 2001.  As I recall, they had some sort of caffeine or similar ingredient in there.  I made the mistake of leaving a few unopened packs on a shelf in my garage after a long bike ride around the 2001 time frame.  A day or two later, I discovered that some mice had themselves discovered that they too enjoyed the green apple gels.  The telltale nibble marks, the speck-sized mouse poop scattered about.  There is no warning label on the gel packets regarding proper consumption amounts for vermin, or that the gel is not intended for vermin.  But I can tell you there should be. 

A section of the garage was practically ripped apart by that mouse or mice all hopped up on the green apple gel.  The evidence of the mouse or mice activity suggested that the critters leapt with super-human (super-vermin?) powers, accessing high spaces and walls in a way that was just not normal. That little bastard or those little bastards pretty much destroyed the last of those green apple PowerGels.  And I think they paid the ultimate price, most likely.  Tweaked out after a few hours of their caffeine-addled manic behavior, simply expiring in a little heap in one hole or another somewhere.  Spent.

Serves them right.  And fortunately, they didn’t find all of my green apple gel stash.

I found one of these wonder gels just the other day, in a red and grey Timbuk2 messenger bag that saw regular circulation years ago as Max’s diaper bag.  Max is now 12.  I spied in a weird little pocket the gold-tinted packet, the green apple graphic, and I couldn’t resist.  Mostly, I was pressed for time, trying to squeeze in a compressed bike ride with a neighborhood buddy who was equally squeezed for time. I ripped the foil with my teeth, squeezed the paste (yes, it would no longer be accurate to call the texture “gel”) onto my tongue, and flattened out the packet to ensure that I got everything out.  My reptilian brain was screaming “NO EAT! NO EAT!” throughout this entire fifteen second episode, mind you.  I ignored it.

The ride was fine.  I suffered no ill effects from the gel, at least not yet.  And the really green apple paste served its purpose, as far as I can tell.  But my sample size was small.  The study was neither double-blind nor peer-reviewed.  So of limited scientific value.

So, to you researchers at Ashton University:  Thank you for the information.  But for your next study, may I suggest that you put away the stopwatch, and pull out the calendar?  Ideally a calendar that shows 10 or more years “at a glance”?  I may have another green apple gel or two around here somewhere, if you need something to test….

Thanks for reading.



  1. Fits very nicely with your “Whenever and Wherever You Can” philosophy. Grandma would be proud of you for not wasting perfectly good, though way past their “best if eaten by” date, green apple gels. I have been cleaning out Grandma’s canned goods stash which make your 12 year old gel seem like it just came off the factory conveyor belt.

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