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Why the Food You Dropped on the Floor Might Be Good for You

28/06/2013 12:25 BST | Updated 27/08/2013 10:12 BST
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It all occurred to me a few weeks ago when my housemate was getting something from the back of her cupboard and some of her spaghetti fell from inside the cupboard to the floor. She went about collecting all the pieces and then walked towards the bin with it...

I quickly jumped to ask what she was doing and, of course - to my horror - like a typical Brit, she was binning it! Uncooked dry pasta had fallen to our, albeit not sparkling, floor. So she was disposing of the supposedly now 'unusable' pasta. I couldn't believe it, so I suggested she put it into my cupboard instead to save the waste.

This appalling phenomenon seems to be an illness contracted by many a Briton.

Some, granted, live by the five-second rule, a rule which states that if the dropped food has been on the floor for less than 5 seconds, it is deemed fine to eat, although really this means that the food is deemed socially acceptable to eat. Aka you're no hobo searching through the rubbish for a burger a couple hours old, don't worry, no one's judging you if it's been there less than five-seconds.

Some fools have decided to test the authenticity of this five-second rule and have concluded that it is not to be followed. How surprising.

Obviously, the five-second or three-second or 168027584 second rule is nonsense. There is no difference in contamination to your crisp/nut/[insert fallen food] if it has been on the floor for a nano second, or a century - okay, it'll probably have rotten, decomposed and been absorbed back into the earth after a century, but you get the idea, three, five, twenty seconds, it's still fallen to the floor. But if your [insert number] second rule permits you to eat your food that fell to the floor, then I approve.

[Disclamer: I do not apply the five, or any, second rule to sticky foods]

Now, I'm not condoning eating your macaroni cheese that just fell onto the pavement - be sensible really - just don't throw away your dry spaghetti, biscuit, popcorn, whatever just because it fell onto the floor.

This leads me onto my next British qualm: the fuss and misconception of expiration dates.

This bothers me even more than throwing away the biscuit you just dropped.

A frustratingly large number of Britons I have met refuse to eat foods after their expiration dates. I know, they tell me again & again, expiration dates are there for a reason! So what happens at midnight the day these foods go off? Are they all of a sudden inedible and poisonous to you? Of course not you fool.

When it comes to vegetables, I'm probably more lenient than your average I-will-eat-past-the-expiry-date eater because to me, vegetables are vegetables. They'll never go off in such a way that will make you ill if you eat them - unlike some meats, but we'll come to that - the only thing they sometimes lose is texture and colour, and even then, only a couple weeks after the expiration date has passed will you notice this in vegetables.

You do have to be a little more vigilant when it comes to meat though. It was in fact found that all meats, except chicken, are fine to eat up to two weeks after the expiration date as long as they are cooked properly. Just be sensible, if it's moulding or smells bad, obviously chuck it, but otherwise it's fine. The key here, unlike with the veg, is to ensure you cook the meat properly as this kills all bacteria.

The reason I get so wound up about throwing away food that won't kill you is this: those foods that do fall on the floor, or the meat & veg that are left two weeks past their Use By date, but you still choose to eat them, naturally will contain more bacteria than its fresh counterpart. But bacteria is good.

The more bacteria and bugs you get exposed to as a youngster, the stronger your immune system will become. You know you have that friend who always gets ill? Likelihood is, they're the oldest child in their family, they are their parents' firstborn, so understandably, the parents were worried about getting the first little one ill, so they kept them away from all sorts of nasties, only this lack of exposure to germs actually gave them a weak immune system and now as an adult they pick up all sorts of bugs all the time.

Worst of all, that kid has grown up to think 'you can't eat that' 'don't eat that', so with their weak immune system, if they ever did eat a steak past its expiration date, they're more likely to get ill due to their poor immune system. Then they blame the steak and never eat food past its expiration date again, and its a vicious circle of food wasteage.

Personally, I know I'll be throwing my kid into the sandpit to eat worms and dirt and all, but that's just me. All I ask is that you stop and think twice before throwing out the food that just fell from your hand or that food in the fridge past its expiration date.