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March 5, 2009

BehindTheMedspeak: The Five-Second Rule — Truth or Myth?

Long story short (5 seconds, to be precise): Even in as little as five seconds, food can pick up enough bacteria to make you sick. Researchers at Clemson University showed that bologna and bread left for five seconds on a surface previously contaminated with salmonella collected between 150 and 8000 bacteria during that time.

Here's Monica Hesse's entertaining July 8, 2007 Washington Post story about the findings.


That Dropped Doughnut: How Soon, and How Often, Will It Come Back Up?

Last month, scientists at Clemson University in South Carolina determined that applying the five-second rule to dropped food will not actually prevent the food from gathering bacteria.

The nation's reaction to this: Duh.

The five-second rule. If you've never heard of it, ask any sixth-grader. "It means that if you drop something on the ground, you can still eat it if you pick it up in five seconds," says Kiara Hopkins, 11.

"God made dirt and dirt don't hurt," elaborates Christopher Evans, 13. "But after five seconds, it's nasty."

Imperative to the rule's effectiveness, Kiara and Christopher say, is yelling out, "FIVE-SECOND RULE!" as soon as an item has touched the ground. It is also acceptable for a friend to yell it on your behalf.

It would seem that the Clemson research would be the death of the five-second rule. But such thinking would be based on the notion that the five-second rule is like any other rule, bound by the rule-like constraints of practicality and public good. It is not. The beauty of the five-second rule is that it is utterly pliable and that it is not about food so much as it is about yearning and disgust and gastronomic history and evolutionary wiring and the implicit social contract we make when we break (and drop) bread with other human beings.

Following the rule requires understanding its intricacies. "I would never eat a pickle," says Anaiah Grissom, 9, "not even after one second." She also would not eat a hot dog, a burger or a piece of broccoli, because those get dirty really fast. A Chips Ahoy, according to Anaiah, can last up to 15 seconds, and Pop-Tarts, like, never get dirty.

Indoor floors are better than outdoors, but grass is better than carpet.

The tastier the treat, the longer it can be left on the floor. Cake tastes better than cookies, though, and gets germy before cookies. You can almost never use the five-second rule on cake. Parents will, however, employ it on any foodstuff with a high per-pound price. You pick that up and eat it! You know how much that cost?

If you spend your last dollar on something, the germs will give you a break and leave it alone for an extra 10 seconds, or until you can pick it back up.

Okay, Anaiah, but here's an important question. Pretend your friends aren't around. Pretend your mom's not going to read this. Is the five-second rule true? Does it really take five seconds for germs to grow?

"Nah. It's just what you say."


The purpose of the five-second rule is not to protect you from bacteria but from ridicule. It's shorthand for, "I know what I'm doing is gross, but citing this rule will allow me to eat this brownie and you to pretend there is justification for me eating this brownie." When invoked for someone else, it's an act of kindness: Go ahead. Eat it. I won't judge you. It's not just for children: In a 2003 survey conducted at the University of Illinois, 70 percent of women and 56 percent of men had knowledge of the rule.

"It's basically a way to make socially acceptable something we all kind of know is wrong," says Liz, a 30-something Washingtonian who also deems eating fuzzy M&M's out of pockets "totally okay." Liz would prefer her last name not be used for this article. When asked her profession, she whispers in embarrassment, "Public health generalist."

Liz should know better. We all should know better, really, considering that one in three Americans experiences a food-related illness each year. "We are all at risk," warns Paul Dawson, the author of the Clemson study, who has a Smokey Bear philosophy of preventing floor-eating. He cites the alarming rate at which salmonella can colonize on bread, bologna and unwrapped chewing gum. "There are a lot of high school kids working at fast-food restaurants," he says. "Do we really want them thinking the five-second rule is okay?"

Well, no.

But would that thinking necessarily be the end of humanity? Consider the results of another recent study, conducted at Connecticut College. Unlike Dawson's study, which measured how quickly bacteria could slather itself on food, the Connecticut research measured the likelihood of the slathering. Two biology majors spent a week dropping Skittles and apple slices in their cafeteria and concluded that it took an average of 30 to 60 seconds for bacteria to form on the food.

"That's not the point!" says Dawson. The average is irrelevant, he says. What matters is the fact that if food is dropped on a contaminated surface, it will gather bacteria faster than you can say "intestinal distress."

But that's not the point, either, is it? Eating off the floor is less about dirt and more about desire -- how much we are willing to deceive ourselves in the reckless pursuit of something forbidden. At the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, researchers induce cravings in study subjects by putting the human guinea pigs on a strict diet of nutritionally complete Boost. Within a mere 36 hours, the subjects begin begging for the foods they are not allowed to eat. A close proximity to forbidden fruits (and cookies) makes the cravings even stronger, as does the belief that the desired food is in limited supply. Dropping the last Oreo from the bag onto the ground creates a miasma of yearning:

1) We're not "allowed" to eat it;

2) But there's only one left;

3) And it's right there, taunting us.

We may scramble frantically under the couch, emerging minutes later with a dusty cookie and proclaiming "347-second rule!"

Wanting to believe that something is "still good!" is not, after all, restricted to things we eat. In life, the five-second rule translates into hanging on to rotten boyfriends long after we know the relationship has spoiled or suffering from the misguided notion that pregnancies can't occur if the contact is brief enough. Believing in the five-second rule requires an appreciation for risk, as well as an equal combination of naive optimism and self-loathing -- hoping for the best but willing to admit you deserve the worst, should the worst involve salmonella.

* * *

A brief history of floor-snacking:

Some folklorists have cited the five-second rule as an invention of Genghis Khan (who supposedly called it the 20-hour rule), but there's no proof. Medieval etiquette books make no prohibition against eating off the floor; in fact, it was standard practice to hoist a chicken leg up from the dirt. Julia Child also may be responsible, for her cheery rescue of haute cuisine from the kitchen linoleum. Not until the advent of modern germ theory in the late 19th century did eating off the floor become taboo.

But according to Thomas Shipley, a "food psychologist" at Temple University, the ability to assess food risk is biologically built into our makeup: "Disgust is basically an evolutionary health code," says Shipley. "We know we shouldn't eat gravel, for example, but the thought of it doesn't make us gag the way that [a] cockroach walking across our mashed potatoes does."

But why, instead of privately using our primate judgment to suss out which foods are gross, do we brandish the ones we want to eat for public support of their consumption.

"Eating has been a social activity for millennia," explains Shipley. "We've come to use each other's reactions to judge whether food is safe. If someone gags or makes a face, that tells you not to eat something."

And as for the rule's five-second precision? Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab, speculates that the time limit relates to human memory, how long we will recall that something dropped. "Much longer than five seconds and you start to forget the food was ever on your plate. It just looks like you're randomly eating off the floor," he says. Like we're dogs.

While it's one thing to rescue a recently fallen item, it's quite another to set up a five-course meal on the linoleum.

When we surveyed a group of eight nonprofit workers for their personal interpretations of the rule, most supported the theory behind Wansink's memory assessment. "I'll eat something off the floor as long as it's remained in my direct line of vision," says Sarah Schrag. "After that, it feels like it's been too long. Who knows what could have happened while I wasn't looking?"

But while the majority of Schrag's friends nod in agreement, Matthew Cole dissents. He has a more liberal definition of the five-second rule, solidified with a summer job he once held at a movie theater. "Sometimes when I'd be cleaning out a theater and I'd be really hungry," he says, "I'd eat a few Mike and Ikes off the floor."

A collective " ewwwww" rises from the lunch crew.

Cole shrugs. "What can I say? I never got sick."


Paul Dawson, who led the Clemson researchers, tells you all about it here , as well as in the video up top.


And of course this post wouldn't be complete without at least the abstract of the original 2007 scientific paper that forms the basis for this seemingly interminable exploration of the five-second space — would it?

Here you go.


Residence time and food contact time effects on transfer of Salmonella Typhimurium from tile, wood and carpet: test the five-second rule

Aims: Three experiments were conducted to determine the survival and transfer of Salmonella Typhimurium from wood, tile or carpet to bologna (sausage) and bread.

Methods and Results:  Experiment 1. After 28 days, 1·5 to 2·5 log10 CFU cm−2 remained on tile from and the more concentrated media facilitated the survival of S. Typhimurium compared with the more dilute solutions.

Experiments 2 and 3. The bacterial transfer rate to food decreased as the bacterial residence time on the surface increased from 2, 4, 8 to 24 h with transfers of 6·5, 4·8, 4·6 and 3·9 log CFU ml−1 in the rinse solutions, respectively. Over 99% of bacterial cells were transferred from the tile to the bologna after 5 s of bologna exposure to tile. Transfer from carpet to bologna was very low (<0·5%) when compared with the transfer from wood and tile (5–68%).

Conclusions: (i) Salmonella Typhimurium can survive for up to 4 weeks on dry surfaces in high-enough populations to be transferred to foods and (ii) S. Typhimurium can be transferred to the foods tested almost immediately on contact.

Significance and Impact of the Study: This study demonstrated the ability of bacteria to survive and cross-contaminate other foods even after long periods of time on dry surfaces, thus reinforcing the importance of sanitation on food contact to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

March 5, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Selling immateriality — The art of Tino Sehgal


Long story short: The 32-year-old Berlin-based artist creates ephemeral works which leave no permanent trace — except for the transfer of funds from their purchasers' accounts into his.

Here's Natasha Degen's February 14, 2009 Financial Times story about an artist who's managed to make "Money for Nothing" more — much more — than just a great song and video.

Pictured up top, the artist along with some of the children who interpreted his installation entitled "This Success/This Failure" at the 2007 Frieze Art Fair in London.


Making and selling ephemeral 'situation' art

Last winter Jerry Saltz, senior art critic for New York Magazine, walked into a basketball court-sized gallery and found himself greeted by a chorus of actors.

“Welcome to this situation,” they intoned in unison. “My urge was to run out because I was so scared,” he recalls.

The six actors then created a tableau based on a famous painting and began to recite quotes and discuss their meaning. At one point, an actor turned to Saltz, asking his opinion. “I gave a kind of flippy answer and the performer called me out on it. It was the best thing I saw all year,” Saltz says, “and the most shocking.” The piece – “This situation”, by Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal – is now on view at Galerie Marian Goodman in Paris until March 7.

Sehgal’s “constructed situations” elude easy categorisation. Whereas most artworks are silent objects that are meant to be regarded passively, these installations immerse gallery visitors in bewildering interactive experiences. Although carefully conceived and choreographed, Sehgal’s situations are often mutable, according to visitors’ responses.

They are also completely ephemeral: the artist prohibits photographic or video documentation of his pieces, and no catalogues, fliers or press releases are printed. Despite such immateriality, his work is created to operate within the conventions of the art world, embracing its institutions and its market. “It is sold like most sculpture or photography, not as unique works but as editions,” Sehgal’s dealer Marian Goodman says. Last June, New York’s Museum of Modern Art bought his “Kiss” for a five-figure sum. His prices range from between €25,000, for private works, and €70,000.

Complying with the artist’s insistence that no objects be produced in connection with his work, the purchase was finalised with a spoken agreement. “There was an orally communicated contract,” Klaus Biesenbach, chief curator of MoMA’s Department of Media, explains. “As a curator you have to remember it – I was very happy I wasn’t alone because I was afraid I was going to forget everything – and you have to follow the instructions. We had 12 people around the table, including a lawyer, a notary, gallerists, curators and members of the conservation and registration departments. The meeting went on for hours.”

Nothing tangible was acquired with the transaction – no written contract, instructions, script, or receipt. What MoMA gained was the right to reproduce the installation forever, and to loan the piece to other institutions. “Kiss”, an edition of four, was also bought by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Fond National d’art contemporain, France; it is now sold out. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is currently in the process of acquiring Sehgal’s “This objective of that object”, and the Tate purchased “This is propaganda” in 2005, for €39,950.

Private collectors have also bought pieces, though, according to Sehgal, they generally enact the situations themselves. One piece, for example, requires a pair of collectors (usually a couple) to host a dinner party. When the main course is served, the first host leaves, followed by the second host a minute or two later. After several minutes, the two return but switch places. As they begin to eat each other’s food, the guests are provoked to ask what happened. The title of the work – “Those thoughts” – refers to the guests’ confusion and speculation.

Sehgal’s motivation is, in part, political. Both economic and artistic production “could be much more immaterial than we think”, he says. His pieces propose an alternative by freeing art from the monopoly of objects. According to Catherine Wood, Curator of Contemporary Art/Performance at Tate Modern, such work asserts that “an ephemeral moment might be as compelling and as lasting in the mind as an encounter with a painting or a sculpture”. In some ways, Wood says, immaterial art parallels the “experience economy”, in which businesses move away from material goods and instead sell personalised interactive events, so that memory itself becomes the product. But until Sehgal’s situations are sold on the secondary market, it’s unclear how they will hold up as alternative commodities.

“With this recent discussion of what value is and how a society values certain things, performance has been re-evaluated and reconsidered,” Biesenbach says. In late January he launched a three-year performance series at MoMA, which will include documentation of seminal works as well as live pieces. Even though Sehgal avoids the term “performance art” to describe his installations, Biesenbach hopes to include the artist in his line-up.

Not that exhibiting “Kiss” will be easy. The players in the piece will have to be cast and trained. And, while most performance pieces are one-off events, Sehgal contractually requires that his installations remain on view all day, every day, for a minimum of six weeks.

Even so, Biesenbach is undeterred. “I don’t think [‘Kiss’] is the last piece the museum will buy from Tino Sehgal,” he says, “I think he’s a groundbreaking artist.”

Selling ephemeral art may seem equivalent to outfitting the emperor in new clothes, but curators and collectors insist Sehgal is uniquely innovative. Dakis Joannou, whose Deste Foundation Centre for Contemporary Art in Athens acquired “This is propaganda” last year, suggests another reason to buy a Sehgal. “It was actually fun,” he laughs, “not to need any storage.”

March 5, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

STAN! — The bilingual blog of English majors in Sarajevo



How did I happen on this website?

I haven't the foggiest.

No matter.

"STAN! is shorthand for 'students of the English Department' (studenti/ce anglistike) at the Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo."

You can join their Facebook group if you like.

March 5, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

FAIL stickers — 'Publicly call out real life FAILS'


5 for $4.99.

[via Milena]

March 5, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'One Million Years' — by On Kawara


This year marks year 40 of Kawara's project, "... launched in 1969, when he began releasing a 20-volume set of books that simply gives a chronological listing of years beginning in 998,031 B.C., 10,000 centuries in the past, and ending in A.D. 1,001,995, looking forward the same span," wrote Blake Gopnik in his January 25, 2009 Washington Post review of Kawara's latest update on the project, which featured "a glass-fronted sound booth and an invitation to all comers to sit in it and read from Kawara's books [top]. Each reader's words — or rather, numbers — [were] recorded for posterity, for release on a CD. Kawara has calculated that his 'audio book' will require more than 2,500 discs."

The show at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York City ended 19 days ago.

March 5, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tennis Ball Bangle





March 5, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Nightmare of the Three Clones



Catchy, what?

It's not the title of a new horror flick but, rather, that of a letter to the Italian magazine Oggi about an article featured in its latest  edition, namely an interview with embyrologist Severino Antinori in which he makes the explosive claim to have cloned three humans nine years ago, all three of whom currently live in Eastern Europe.

Reader MAO in Amsterdam kindly emailed me yesterday with a translation of the Oggi letter, noting that he may take up the subject on his EuroSavant blog:


In the meantime, here's his email and translation — nothing has been lost, at least not that I can tell.


Dear Dr. Stirt,

The editorial in the Italian magazine "Oggi" that you link to is actually a rather alarmed and angry letter to Oggi from a noted Italian expert on bioethics, Andrea Monti, a lawyer who, according to the Italian Wikipedia, is the founder of the Italian Biotech Law Conference, "the primary scientific event dedicated to the study of the connections between life science and the law."

Here is my translation of that text:


The Nightmare of the Three Clones

Dear Director [i.e. of Oggi magazine],

this number of Oggi contains a piece of news that one should handle with care. Prof. Severino Antinori, the controversial but also omnipresent-in-the-media proponent of assisted procreation, literally says in the interview on page 36: "There are three children which I assisted in being born by cloning." And he adds numerous elements to support such an affirmation. Yes, you understood that well. But I take up again the same point: in some city or village in Eastern Europe there would be circulating three human beings — three children of ten years of age, two male and one female, whom we imagine to be cheerful and hope to be happy — the fruit of a genetic manipulation similar in all respects to that which, in the 1990s, brought to birth by cloning the sheep Dolly. Three human beings genetically modified, children of a science that explores its extremes, certainly not the result of a natural course of human events. I hesitate to define them as clones because, just by existing in fact, they would nonetheless be the fruit of a conscious decision of their parents. Even of a very debatable act of love. Provided that the parents and their related cloned children really exist.

This is not the first time that Dr. Antinori has claimed to have practiced cloning. But never so clearly, with such a wealth of particulars. For obvious reasons of privacy, Oggi is not in a position to check on the truth of his affirmations. To be certain, we make him confirm it before publication. On one thing Antinori is certainly right: as our expert Edoardo Rosati explains in the article, the technique to which he refers could work and is certainly within his scientific toolbag. In Italy cloning is forbidden in all forms by the Law 40. No legislation in Western countries authorizes this sort of human practice. Antinori maintains that, in his case, its a matter of therapeutic cloning because he went to help a father who could not produce sperm.

From the rise to prominence of the case of Eluana [the young lady on life-support who recently prompted an Italy-wide controversy about whether to let her die that recalled the case in the US about Terry Schiavo], we have been coming to blows about the themes of bioethics and the limits of science. Fine: here's one that it's better not to cross. I have great respect for the scientific community and for its capacity to produce innovative thought. It does not have to disturb the ethics, the morals, and the reflection that come from the religious world. With a little good sense, science comes to us by itself, respecting its rules. Cloning is in fact an experiment that researchers carry out having only an still-approximate familiarity with the infinitesimal mechanisms of genetics and of life. What science deserving of the name would carry out an experiment without being able to predict and control the consequences? Literature is filled with worlds populated by clones, and none of them resembles Eden. But I speak of the material consequences, the measurable, the organic: it is noted, for example, that the sheep Dolly aged prematurely, suffered a sort of cellular disintegration. Certainly a system for understanding this would be: try it out. Test the consequences of the experiment on a living being. But experiments on man are forbidden, not to mention execrable, and at least on this point I think we are all in agreement. So cloning, even before being illegal, is illogical. It is not a scientific practice, at least not one of the senses. Antinori, who is not inexperienced, knows these things very well. He has spoken without censure in your magazine and mine. By this I expect a response.

Andrea Monti


Now, would one of my Italian fans who from time to time attest their true love for bookofjoe kindly set aside childish things and prove their love by sending me a translation of the Oggi article itself?

It begins on page 36.

In return, I will feature you and/or your website or do you whatever big favor you request that me and my crack research team are capable of making happen.

March 5, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Scissor Letter Opener — Perfect gift for your Flaps & Seals teacher


You know who you are.

7" long, designed by Jean-Sebastien Ides and Ivan Duval, made in France of black-plated stainless steel.


March 5, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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