A surprising amount of research has gone into determining the validity of the “five-second rule.” Without further ado, know that the food you drop on the floor is instantly contaminated with bacteria. It doesn’t even matter what the surface is — tile, wood or carpeting. The only difference is in how much moisture is involved and the texture of the surface — those details will determine how heavily the dropped food item is contaminated. One study done in 2006 using salmonella determined that the bacteria remained active for 28 days on a dry surface. The five-second rule (also known as the three-second or 10-second rule) is probably one of the most popular and prevalent kitchen myths. However here are six other unsanitary kitchen habits that can lead to illness.

1. Myth: Using a wet sponge or cloth for cleanup is perfectly safe.

Fact: The only time you should use a sponge or rag for cleanup is if it is brand new or very well cleaned. Use one cloth per food preparing session. Have a separate cloth just for wiping off your hands. Sponges can be cleaned in the dishwasher or by placing them (moist) in the microwave for 30 seconds. You are usually spreading more germs and bacteria by wiping up with a sponge or cloth than you are picking up.

If you do use a sponge or cloth to clean kitchen surfaces, be sure to clean with hot, soapy water, and then thoroughly dry the surface. It is best to use paper towels (recycled of course) for any cleanup.

2. Myth: Using the same cutting board for meats and vegetables is OK.

Fact: The news has been rife in recent years with E. coli scares occurring in the food industry. People have gotten sick and some have died as a result of contaminated foods. Contamination and the resulting illness can easily happen in your own home. Those most at risk are the elderly, children and people with compromised immune systems.

Meat, poultry and eggs should be kept separate from all other foods — period. It is also a good idea to wash your poultry before any preparations for cooking. If you have been handling meats or poultry, wash your hands. Everything you touch, including faucets and doorknobs, will be contaminated. I have come to prefer kitchen faucets that turn on and off with levers instead of screw-tops. I found I am less likely to contaminate the faucet handle if I can use the back of my hand or wrist to turn the water on.  After preparing raw meats, it is also good to clean up using a mild bleach solution.

3. Myth: A box of baking soda in the refrigerator will remove any bad odors. 

Fact: You are better off covering the food you are storing in your refrigerator, cleaning the shelving regularly, and tossing old food after a few days. Baking soda can help to remove odors from your refrigerator, but it's only one part of the solution.

4. Myth: Never use soap on your cast iron cookware; soap will destroy the “seasoning.”

Fact: I personally believed this one for a long time. I never felt entirely comfortable with the leftover greasy residue, however slight, when I didn’t use soap to clean my cast iron pans, but I was admonished by more than one person to never let a drop of soap touch those pans.

In fact, most cast iron cookware today comes pre-seasoned. You can, and should, use a mild soap to clean your cast iron cookware. Do not, however, use harsh soaps, abrasives, or place your cast iron cook wear in the dishwasher — that will destroy the seasoning.

Cast iron pans are seasoned when fat molecules come in contact with heat, such as while cooking. The molecules bond with the iron, creating a surface that prohibits sticking. Leftover grease just gets rancid and collects dust and bacteria.

5. Myth: Rinsing is adequate cleaning.

Fact: How many of us have had that quick glass of water and gave the glass a quick rinse and popped it into the dish drainer? Or perhaps, we have a pair of “kitchen scissors” that we use to snip bacon fat, open packages, cut off shrimp tails etc.? Or maybe you ate a bowl of crackers or chips. Seems like a quick rinse is all it needs right?

If you are touching or placing your mouth on these items, or any cooking implement such as a “tasting spoon,” that item needs to be washed in hot soapy water or placed in the dishwasher. Same goes for any cooking implement that is coming in contact with raw meat.

6. Myth: Cats (and other pets) on counters and tables are perfectly fine.

Fact: We’ve all seen those mugs and T-shirts extolling the happy acceptance of pet hair in food because the owner loves their dogs and cats so very much. Cats and dogs are pretty smart. They are easily trained to not go onto counters and tables. I have known numerous people who have seen no problem with pets on the counters. There are reasons why humans aren’t allowed to even enter restaurants with no shoes or shirt.

Your pets walk through all manner of things, including kitty litter boxes. Pets drop hair, and potentially worms or other nasties. If your pets have been on your tables and counters, use a mild bleach solution to clean up before preparing food.

Yes, most of us will survive ingesting some unhealthy bacteria. I have one acquaintance who insists, “We all have to eat a pound of dirt before we die.” Nor do I suggest going crazy with cleaning. However, most of us can improve on our cleaning habits. 

Cris Carl originally wrote this story for Networx.com. It is reprinted with permission here.

MNN homepage photo: Natikka/iStockphoto

6 kitchen myths that could give you food poisoning
Learn more about the 5-second rule and other popular and prevalent kitchen safety myths that can lead to illness.