Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Five-Second Rule Retraction

I read an article recently, maybe in the New York Times, about how the Five-Second Rule should really be the Zero-Second Rule. Meaning, all of us moms who have been working under the assumption that any food dropped on the floor requires at least five seconds before it’s contaminated have been wrong; a quickly retrieved graham cracker is not fine to feed your toddler.

I’ve been abiding by the five-second rule long before I became a parent. With the possible exception of ice cream, I couldn’t imagine a single thing that could be so tainted by touching the floor that you wouldn’t just brush it off and eat it. But that’s where my liberal views about food safety begin and end.

I assume everyone thinks the way I do: M&Ms that have dropped on the floor are okay, while fruit that sports white or green mold must be eliminated. Apparently not. I was recently enlightened at the home of my BFF after we’d returned from a morning walk where she grabbed a pomelo off her counter, placed it squarely on the cutting board and then turned to grab a knife.

“What are you doing?” I asked. The alarm came through in my voice.

“I’m going to eat some pomelo,” she said. “Do you want some?”

I don’t know much about pomelos (aside from that they can pass for grapefruits) but I’m pretty certain they’re not supposed to be furry.

Her husband grabbed the knife away from her. “You can’t eat that. It’s full of mold.”

“I know. I was just going to cut the moldy part off,” she said.

Her husband and I looked at each other as if she were mad. A full quarter of the fruit was covered white and green. “What?” she said. “This is what I always do.”

At that point we repositioned ourselves. My BFF secured a new knife and halved her pomelo. I followed her husband to the computer where he looked up guidelines for eating moldy food. Most websites agreed: soft fruits and vegetables should be thrown away when they display mold.

“Is this considered soft?” my BFF asked. “It’s soft inside, but outside, where the mold is, is hard.”

It’s a wonder her family has survived as long as it has, I thought. Just today I threw away a newly opened container of hummus—a container whose expiration date was still a long time coming—not because it smelled bad or tasted off, but simply because I was getting a bad vibe from it.

From the USDA website: “When a food shows heavy mold growth, ‘root’ threads have invaded it deeply. In dangerous molds, poisonous substances are often contained in and around these threads. In some cases, toxins may have spread throughout the food.” A statement like that doesn’t even seem to me open to interpretation.

The pomelo was wrestled from her hands and tossed in the trash, but not before she defiantly slurped down a big, succulent, mold-free section. That was weeks ago and she’s survived.

This weekend, as we wound up our walk, she told me she’d come into her kitchen that morning to find a half-gallon of milk had been left on the counter. “It wasn’t there when I went to bed,” she said, “so someone must’ve left it out during a midnight snack.”

“I sniffed it and tasted it, and to me it seemed fine,” she went on. “So I put it back in the fridge with a note saying it had been out for maybe eight hours, drink at your own risk.”

Later that day I was in my own kitchen, popping a batch of popcorn on the stove and telling my husband (who believes everything in any refrigerator is potentially poison) about my BFF’s decision to let her family members choose for themselves whether to drink the milk. My popcorn maker is a little broken so when I pour the popped corn into a serving bowl a lot of it spills over onto the counter, onto the floor.

“That seems so reckless to me,” I said to my husband as I bent over and scooped up a handful of fallen popcorn near my feet. “And kinda gross,” I added, tossing the retrieved kernels into my mouth.

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