Are the sniff test and five second rule really safe for food?

Beware the sniff test! Your nose doesn’t know what’s best when it comes to eating safely – and why the five-second rule is definitely a food ‘no-no’

  • Sniffing food isn’t always a good indication of when it needs to be thrown away 
  • Expert reveals food can contain harmful bacteria even if it doesn’t smell bad
  • If food drops on the floor, the ‘five second rule’ doesn’t mean it’s okay to eat
  • Study shows the amount of moisture a food contained affected contamination

When it comes to whether or not something is safe to eat, usually how it looks or smells, are markers we use to make a decision.

And while these two indicators will tell you straight away if something needs to be thrown out, there may be times when food has spoiled and you may not know.

Leanne Elliston, a senior nutritionist from Nutrition Australia told FEMAIL most instances of food poisoning occur when people don’t realise the food they are eating is dangerous.

Senior nutritionist Leanne Elliston (pictured) said most instances of food poisoning occur when people don’t realise the food they are eating is dangerous

‘It’s important to recognise we can still get sick from foods that may not smell off,’ she said.

The sorts of bacteria that do make people sick such as salmonella, campylobacter, E.coli and listeria don’t always cause obvious changes in food when they grow.

She said foods that have a high-protein content such as dairy, meat, seafood, chicken and raw or undercooked eggs were considered particularly high-risk.

While it’s natural to smell food to check if it’s spoiled this may not be always be an accurate gauge (stock image)

Ms Elliston also said it also paid to be wary of fruit and vegetables that had been cut or processed in any way and left in the fridge for longer than two days.

The expert also explained that people needed to be careful of fruit and vegetables to as unwashed produce, or produce that had been cut with an unclean knife, could become contaminated with bacteria.

Her advice in order to avoid becoming sick from any bugs in food is to always observe ‘use by’ dates, keep foods refrigerated, and always make sure you cook food properly.

The nutritional expert also weighed in on whether or not the ‘five-second rule’ could be applied as food safety test.

Under this rule, food, or cutlery, that has been dropped is usually safe to eat if it’s only been on the ground for a maximum of five seconds.

The sorts of bacteria that do make people sick such as salmonella, campylobacter, E.coli and listeria don’t always cause obvious changes in food when they grow

Ms Elliston said as far as she was concerned any food that had fallen on the floor should be immediately thrown out.

‘If bacteria gets into food, it can make you sick fairly quickly.’

But she said it also depends on how much bacteria actually make it on to the food and how long it’s had a chance to grow and get to unsafe levels.

The ‘five second rule’ holds that if food is on the floor for less than five seconds it is considered safe to eat

According to one study, food type and surface all significantly affected the amount of contamination that occurred.

Scientists carried out tests four food types: watermelon, bread, bread and butter and gummy sweets with four different surfaces: (stainless steel, ceramic tile, wood and carpet that were contaminated with bacteria.

High-risk foods likely to cause food poisoning:

* Poultry – Campylobacter bacteria and salmonella are the two most common contaminants of poultry

* Eggs – eggs are considered high-risk when raw or undercooked

* Leafy greens and vegetables -Bacteria like E. coli can live in the soil the greens are grown in and can easily leave traces on them

* Raw milk – The risk with consuming raw milk is that there’s a higher chance of the milk containing bacteria

* Seafood – Of all the foods, seafood has the shortest fridge shelf life. If it’s uncooked it should only be kept for a day, and if cooked no longer than 48 hours

Source: Foodsafety.com.au

They also looked at four different contact times – less than one second, five, 30 and 300 seconds.

The research found foods that had the highest moisture content such as a watermelon had the most contamination while gummy candy had the least.

While harmful bacteria, if present, can be transferred to food quickly, the study showed the longer contact time the more likely it was that contamination occurred.

‘Sometimes you only need a small number of bacteria to make you sick,’ said Ms Elliston,

‘And if think about all the places food can land, and what might be there, the five-second rule isn’t going to save you.’

While food that’s dropped in the home can become contaminated, the majority of these bacteria in a normal home are likely to be harmless to human health.     

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