The Vanishing Mediator

Having fun on the internet.

a rigorous analysis of how the “five-second rule” applies to pudding

There is a common superstition that food which has been dropped onto the floor is still viable (in the sense of “safely edible”) if it is picked up within five seconds. It is common to most western societies, and has traveled to the east through economic globalization, improved electronic communication, and… war. In Japan, for example, such occurrences are judged to be either safe or out, in the fashion of baseball.

Some hold to a three-second rule, but those people are both discredited and wrong.

It is immediately evident how this rule could be applied to something dry, such as a cracker. Something wet is probably immediately victus non grata. No one has ever politely offered their guests a slice of floor-ham, and there are many for whom even the table is too floor-ish for their meat to touch.

There is, however, a strange sort of in-between consistency to some foods that has caused much debate among those in such circles as determine the boundaries of polite behavior. The most common example of that consistency is the tasty dessert called pudding. One may sometimes hear discussions that use different examples—spray cheese, pancakes in an can, or edible silly string—but pudding is by far the one around which most of the conversations and papers have been centered.

It is specifically pudding’s ability to form into a stable pile that makes it a standout in its field. Something less viscous would spread out all over the floor, but pudding has properties that still leave rheologists scratching their heads.

When pudding is dropped from average human height, only the pudding molecules at the bottom of the pile are touching the floor. The rest remain exactly as they were when they rested on the top of the plate or inside the bowl. This is a fortuitous situation. The pudding molecules not touching the floor are in what is called a recoverable configuration. For those, the “rule” is extended as far as an hour—longer if the room is refrigerated. With care and proper application of pudding recovery techniques, up to 92% of the pudding can remain viable. (The theoretical limit is 95.6%, but such configurations have only been observed under laboratory conditions.)

Technique 1: Commonly called “The Fillet Method.” Using a board scraper or particularly clean credit card, begin to cut into the pudding pile parallel to the plane of the floor. This often requires several passes to achieve maximum recovery. Do not attempt full recovery in a single cut until you have mastered the intermediate applications of this technique. Practice on Cool Whip® until you feel confident; its lower density makes it easier to manage.

Technique 2: Commonly called “Orion’s Companion.” With the aid of a stop watch and a heat lamp, warm the pudding for 20 minutes or until it reaches room temperature, whichever comes first. Then let the dog eat it. At least someone got some enjoyment out of it. If you do not own a dog, borrow one from a neighbor who is understanding of or sympathetic to your predicament. A cat may be substituted, except in cases of banana pudding. For those, a monkey is recommended.

Technique 3: Commonly called “Going for the Gold.” Grab a spoon. The whole floor is your plate. Dig neither too greedily nor too deep. You cannot know what you will awake in the sweet darkness of the pudding pile.

All of these techniques carry the recommendation of both the Society of Rheology and The Pudding Club.

So, go ahead. When pudding falls on the floor, feel free to eat it without guilt or hesitation.

Eat the floor-pudding.

Eat it.