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5-seond rules, Halloween candy & poison

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POSTED October 31, 2017 1:26 a.m.

I do not have a five-second rule.
You know the one. If you drop food on the floor or ground you’re good with eating it if five seconds haven’t lapsed.
I never realized how engrained food safety scares have become until a number of years ago — try 30 — when I was bicycling with some friends in the middle of nowhere in Nevada when we stopped to eat. I had dropped my granola bar on the hardpan on a spot a dozen or so yards off the road. I picked it up, brushed it off, and proceeded to eat it.
Meanwhile the two guys riding with me sat their staring at me with their mouths hanging wide open reacting as if I had just stuffed a fist full of ants that was topped off with dirt clods down my throat.
We were halfway through a 110-mile ride on fairly grueling rolling terrain burning up a lot of calories in a land where 7-Elevens were about as common as dodo birds.
Having learned my lesson a few years prior about not eating enough and taking on enough water the hard way — a full blown “bonk” that some also refer to as “hitting the wall” — on a solo ride somewhere near Timbuctoo (it’s a real place in Nevada County), I wasn’t about to let some nourishment go to waste out of a fear that it becomes poison the instant it touches the ground.
I’ve lost track over the years how many times I’ve picked up food — including plain M&Ms that have a nasty habit of rolling — that I dropped and retrieved from the floor. If the item ended up in something “yucky”, I don’t pop it in my mouth. And I obviously wouldn’t pick up food dropped on the floor in places like a hospital.
That said if you’re really that nervous about consuming something dropped on the floor even if it is washed or brushed off due to concerns about germs, how could you consume any food unless you’re in a bubble? There are germs everywhere.
I guess it’s true that as citizens of the 21st century most of us wouldn’t literally have had the stomach needed to cross the wide Missouri and head west to the goldfields of California.
In an era that entombed the legacy of the Donner Party into the annals of history, I can’t picture a pioneer parent admonishing their 10-year-old son for picking up a strip of bacon, brushing it off, and popping it in their mouth after dropping it along the wagon trail in the middle of the Nevada desert.
None of this meant to advocate not practicing proven food handling procedures.
But in light of the day — it’s Halloween — it would be nice if people checked their hysteria at the door before allowing their kids to ring the doorbells of complete strangers in search of a mini-version of Mr. Goodbar.
Halloween, of course, is when we ignore the sound advice of dentists in favor of gnashing our parental teeth and instead hang on every word typed on social media and every word uttered on the news warning us of the evil monsters answering doors with poisoned treats for kids.
Not that it matters, but you can research dozens of legitimate websites from law enforcement to government sites dealing with disease and death statistics and you’re not going to come up with strangers poisoning kids with Halloween candy. You’ll find plenty of instances where that was thought to be the case when a child dies unexpectedly within a day of trick or treating. By the time the official cause of death is determined often weeks later — autopsies in such cases range from an undetected heart murmur to ingesting items other than candy — the initial fear of death by Halloween candy has taken hold.
And yes, there have been a few poisonings  attributed to tainted Halloween candy. But after the dust has settled the culprits aren’t strangers but parents or other close relatives. You will notice no one is blanketing the social media warning children to be wary of their parents due to a less than a handful over 40 years that have deliberately made their kids sick.
People need to be cautious. But there is a point were fear stoked by hysteria is more frightening than the real thing. Forget the fact there isn’t solid evidence to support the urban legend.
The odds of a kid being poisoned by Halloween candy by a stranger rank right up with me dying because I picked up a fig bar and ate it after dropping it in an isolated canyon in Death Valley.
That said I’m willing to bet there will be tens of thousands of kids — if not more — in the next few days that will eat a piece of Halloween candy they had accidently dropped on the floor. The likelihood of them getting sick is slim to none.
And if you think about if for a second unless someone has an immune system deficiency, the best way to protect against germs making you sick is not trying to sterilize everything around you. A little germs — and dirt — help build up the immune system. It’s why they use “dead” viruses in vaccines.
As for your kids and Halloween candy, the real danger is what you are ignoring from dentists.
Excessive sugary treats that stick to teeth enamel will ultimately cause real pain and suffering as opposed to the Halloween poisoners we fear that are as real as Freddy Kruger.
And rest assured that most kids are like me — they have no five second rule.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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