Dirty dining: hidden cameras roll as waiter drops food on the floor and serves it; would you say anything?

ABC News set out to find what bystanders would do if they witnessed a waiter drop food on the floor and serve it to unsuspecting patrons. We set up hidden cameras at Holsten’s Confectionary in Bloomfield, N.J. — a popular, well-regarded restaurant that would, of course, never tolerate such behavior from its own staff — and hired actors to play a clumsy waiter and a hungry couple, out with a hankering for grilled cheese sandwiches. We found people were quick to warn our couple when they saw the disservice. But would anyone alert our couple if they became obnoxious and impolite?

What They Said:
"He picked up the pickles and everything and pit it back on the plate…just dropped it on the floor and brought it over." ?
— a shocked Holsten’s customer after witnessing our actor server’s spill
"I should have called him on it, but I didn’t."?
— a sympathetic customer who was a former waitress
"Why don’t you get our food. You’re incompetent…I don’t care if you’re sorry, I just want our food."?
— our "What Would You Do?" offensive couple
"He deserved to eat the food that fell on the floor."
— a customer that kept quiet about the tainted food
"Let him eat the dirty food. He was being a dirty man."
— Holsten’s patron reacting to our rude actors

Who goes to a restaurant for a grilled cheese sandwich?

5-second rule should be 0-second rule

A couple of my Canadian kids were visiting last week during their university spring break. They’re both in biology, so the fruit don’t fall far from the … nevermind.

We were at Target – always a popular outing because Target stores are only now becoming established in Canada – and got some M&M’s for Sorenne. She dropped one on the floor and then picked it up and ate it.

I shrugged.

This was terrible food safety behavior on my part but I can’t babysit all the time.

And from my perspective, the risk was low.

The N.Y. Times quotes Dr. Roy M. Gulick, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Weill Cornell Medical College, as saying,

“The five-second rule probably should become the zero-second rule. Eating dropped food poses a risk for ingestion of bacteria and subsequent gastrointestinal disease, and the time the food sits on the floor does not change the risk.”

In general, if there are bacteria on the floor, they will cling to the food nearly immediately on contact, Dr. Gulick said. Factors that influence the risk and the rate of bacterial transfer include the type of floor; the type of food; the type of bacteria; and how long the bacteria have been on the floor.

In a study published in 2006 in The Journal of Applied Microbiology, Clemson University researchers tested salmonella placed on wood, tile or carpet, and dropped bologna on the surfaces for 5, 30 or 60 seconds. With both wood and tile, more than 99 percent of the bacteria were transferred nearly immediately, and there was no difference by the time of contact. Carpet transferred a smaller number of bacteria, again with no difference by contact time. The amount transferred decreased over hours, but there were still thousands of the bacteria per square centimeter on the surfaces after 24 hours, and hundreds survived on the surfaces for as long as four weeks. As few as 10 salmonella bacteria can cause gastroenteritis.