Popcorn on the floor: a microbiologist’s eye-opening experiment”

Tim Call, an American microbiologist with a huge following on TikTok, analyzed popcorn that fell on the floor in a cinema under the microscope. Here's what he found

At one point or another, we’ve all been introduced to the “3-second rule” or “5-second rule,” depending on which school of thought you’ve encountered. It’s the notion that if food dropped on the floor is picked up quickly—within that tiny window of time—bacteria wouldn’t have the chance to latch on, thus eating the dropped food would still be considered safe.

Science has repeatedly debunked this myth, and some experts have conducted tests to see if food is indeed still safe after a brief encounter with the floor. We’ve discussed this here: “Food Dropped on the Floor: Is the Three-Second Rule Really True?”

But what really lurks on the items that hit the ground? American microbiologist Tim Call revisits this topic with an experiment involving popcorn dropped in a movie theater.

What can you really find on things dropped on the ground?

Call, who enjoys a substantial following on TikTok, often creates videos aimed at revealing what might otherwise remain invisible to consumers.

What did he do this time? Before entering the cinema, he grabbed a fresh bag of popcorn from the kiosk and then compared a sample of these with another sample of popcorn picked up from the floor of the same cinema. Naturally, the analysis was done under a microscope.

The findings were startling: the popcorn from the floor was covered in a “forest” of fungi and bacterial colonies, starkly contrasting with the relative sterility of the uneaten popcorn.


Storytime: In this fun experiment, I went to a movie theater and tested the popcorn they sold. Additionally, for comparison, I grabbed some popcorn off the floor to show that bacteria can grow on popcorn. Unsuprisingly, popcorn from the floor is filthy. However, when I worked as an environmental microbiologist for various industries, this is a common test procedure and I would test items that would be commonly found on the floor. Often I would test factory workers shoes and EVERY SINGLE TIME I would find some of the craziest growths and via PCR it was determined to almost always have pathogens present. The most common pathogen I would see were Staphylococcus, Listeria, E. Coli, and Salmonella. The lesson of this mini experiment is to show what you would find if you were to eat things off the floor. I wish I knew this as a little kid, because I was notorious for going to the candy section where you could scoop out candy into bags, and eating any candy that was on the floor. If I were to guess, the small amount of bacteria found on the “fresh” popcorn would be Staphylococcus which is commonly found on humans and probably came from myself or the movie theater workers. The growth from the floor popcorn could literally be anything and would need PCR for identification. #popcorn #movie #microbiology #bacteria #science #fyp #longervideos

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Call’s experiment elicited strong reactions, with many expressing disgust but also gratitude for shedding light on such an important issue. While it might seem obvious to us not to pick up popcorn from a cinema floor, the risk to children could indeed be real. But now, we know to be extra cautious.

Lessons from the experiment

Call elucidates:

“The lesson from this mini-experiment is to show what you might be ingesting if you eat food that’s fallen on the floor. I wish I had known this as a child because I was known to head to the candy section where you could pick up candies in bags and eat all the candies that were on the floor. If I had to guess, the small amount of bacteria found on the ‘fresh’ popcorn would be Staphylococcus, which is commonly found on humans and probably came from either me or the cinema workers.”

Despite the shocking revelation about the condition of popcorn dropped on the floor, Call also noted that not everything around us is equally contaminated. For instance, he mentioned gas station pumps as one of the cleanest surfaces he’s ever tested.

Nevertheless, this test once again clearly demonstrates that it’s better not to take chances when it comes to consuming food that’s fallen on the floor.

Source: @whatmightgrow TikTokcibo

The article draws upon studies published and recommendations from international institutions and/or experts. We do not make claims in the medical-scientific field and report the facts as they are. Sources are indicated at the end of each article.
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