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If I am cooking steaks at a grill and one of them accidentally falls down on the floor/ground, is it safe for me to wipe it and cook it for a certain amount of time (till it is pretty well done) and then eat it? Or should I throw it away?

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At home??? Hell, I'd still eat it if was already cooked! And I'm a slob! My floors are a mess! –  Jolenealaska Sep 2 at 11:50
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On this note, it's good to run the hose over the deck before barbecuing, at least to get rid of the stuff most like to stick to a piece of meat. Pollen, dust, little chipmunk turds.... –  JoeTaxpayer Sep 2 at 15:45
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@JoeTaxpayer usually what I do is: light the fire, then put the grill on top of the wood, live it there for some minutes and then scrub it with a (hard) brush –  Shevliaskovic Sep 2 at 15:52
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I'd be more worried about any bits of sand or grit that will still be there (albeit sterile) after cooking. –  Nick T Sep 3 at 2:16
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Five second rule? –  j08691 Sep 4 at 2:48

8 Answers 8

up vote 28 down vote accepted

Sure it's safe. You are about to char the outside at very high temperatures, nothing's going to survive that, so cleaning it is more about flavor than safety. I wouldn't just wipe it though, clean it with water or you might get a dirtier steak flavor than you'd like.

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Burninating something kills the bad living things, but it doesn't remove bad other stuff. I doubt you'd be in trouble anyway so the objection is more of a principle than that I think your answer is wrong. But still: there are more things that can cause trouble (compare to leaving meat out in the sun, then burning it. while there is still nothing surviving this, it's still a bad idea). –  Nanne Sep 2 at 14:49
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@Nanne There is the Brazilian "Carne de Sol", meat seasoned and dried in sunlight. –  Mindwin Sep 2 at 14:57
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@Mindwin In this part of the internet we would prefer that people are polite when possible. And carne de sol is heavily salted and cured in the sun, which is completely different from simply leaving meat out in the sun. It has nothing to do with the point that Nanne was making. To be very specific: meat left in temperatures from 40F to 140F (the danger zone) for long periods of time is unsafe. –  Jefromi Sep 2 at 16:50
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To answer more exactly: raw meat left for substantial periods of time in temperatures from 40F to 140F is susceptible to bacterial growth. Bacteria can turn parts of the meat into poison, and that poison remains even after cooking -- although the bacteria themselves are killed and cannot reproduce in your stomach, the poisons they left behind remain. –  Ross Presser Sep 2 at 17:10
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@Nanne Burninating is a technical cooking term? –  Andrew Grimm Sep 3 at 13:27

This depends completely on the context.

Are you at a grill in let's say.. Outback Steakhouse? If so, please throw it away.

Are you at a social event or home cooking for yourself/others? clean it off with water and you're good, maybe even feed it to someone you don't like afterwards (unless it's the biggest and best steak, then you gotta eat it.)

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Why would a restaurant throw out perfectly good food? So it's been dropped on the floor, wash it off well and cook it! If it's been dropped on the floor after cooking that's a different story. –  GdD Sep 2 at 15:17
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@GdD: if you are preparing food professionally as a business, you had to follow the local regulations regarding food safety, which can be quite strict depending on where you live. Some of these regulations might seem silly/overcautious compared to what home chefs do all the time, but many restaurants would rather discard a few pieces of meat than risk it. –  Lie Ryan Sep 2 at 15:34
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Have you seen how dirty the kitchen floors are at some restaurants? I'd rather eat a steak the fell on my toilet than off the floor of some restaurants. –  Meph Sep 2 at 16:36
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@GdD You're not a food inspector, are you? –  logophobe Sep 3 at 1:23
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@GdD I would normally agree but the floor of a restaurant (having worked in a few) is much dirtier than you home floor. Even dirtier than your bathroom floor. There is a lot of foot traffic in a commercial kitchen. And where have those feet been? Everywhere, including multiple bathrooms. Including pissing on your own shoes for the slobs in the kitchen. Your toilet seat at home is probably cleaner than most restaurant kitchen floors 2 hrs after the cooks arrived... That said, cooking the meat after dropping it should kills anything on the surface so the 5 second rule may apply. –  gabe Sep 5 at 5:37

It depends on what it is likely to pick up.

If it's an interior floor surface that is usually kept clean, you're unlikely to suffer any ill effects.

If it's outside on the ground next to the gas grill and you regularly fertilize/pesticide/herbicide the lawn, or sealed/stained your deck/concrete recently, or have a number of animals that use the space as a restroom and play area, I'd suggest throwing it away and being more careful with your food.

I don't believe one could safely answer, "Yes, it's generally ok regardless of other factors."

That said, washing it off after contamination, and ensuring it reaches safe cooking temperatures after washing it will probably prevent most significant opportunities for poisoning or illness.

Whether it's worth the risk depends entirely on how risky it is, and how risk averse you are.

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A caveat to the washing off suggested by others, I would add:

Do not wash so thoroughly that the flavor is lost - you may as well throw it away then. Just pour water for 3-4 seconds. After that, if you feel it is still dirty, then take a serrated knife and thinly scrape off the part that touched the ground.

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5 seconds under the tap, then back on the grill. If you have any organisms on the floor / ground etc. capable of surviving proper cooking of meat within 30 seconds of being exposed to said meat, your guests are doomed. ("The Salmon Mousse!") They won't be on warm meat long enough - E.Coli (the bad one) needs 20 minutes to divide, and that's after a zero-growth lag period.

To take this to a logical extreme, rubbing your raw, wild rabbit medallions (that you shot out of season and butchered 30 minutes ago) on a nearly-dead ebola victim's face and then cooking it medium-well will still produce edible food. Wash your hands before sitting down at the table, please.

However, as others have mentioned, inorganic chemicals will not be affected so you could have taste or toxicity issues. I would hope that your kitchen floor has not been dusted with arsenic powder, nor that you are barbecuing outside mere hours after the people in moon suits sprayed your yard (and hopefully removed the ebola victim).

If a steak hits my deck, I rinse it with the garden hose and return it to the grill. That's if no one is looking. If people are watching it goes into the kitchen, gets rinsed there, trimmed so it looks different, and then the "replacement" goes back on the grill.

If you work in the open grill at Outback, make a big show of the meat's disposal and floor cleaning.

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Ebola is spread through bodily fluids, so I'm not convinced that physical contact with a victim would spread it to the meat. –  Stacey Sep 3 at 10:05
    
@StaceyAnne To be fair, symptoms of late stage Ebola include bleeding from the eyes and nose — that's the point paul was making. –  ghoppe Sep 3 at 16:48
    
@ghoppe Charming. Point taken, I wasn't entirely familiar with the details. –  Stacey Sep 3 at 16:53
    
What ghoppe said. StacyAnne: you don't want to know any more details. And for anyone who doesn't know, fresh out-of-season rabbit meat will be crawling with all sorts of unpleasantness. That's why they have a rabbit season (and a duck season). And why we don't eat sick wildlife. –  paul Sep 4 at 8:07

It is safe if you take some measures to clean the dust and other particles that might have sticked to the meat.

Rinse the meat with lots of water, no soap. If you have some sauce to spare, after rinsing the meat, set apart some sauce (throw away that sauce afterwards) and use it to season the meat throughly. This will remove almost all the particles and substances that the meat picked up, and re-add the spices the meat lost.

After that, grill the meat again. According to the Fodsafety.gov, temperatures above 165F are enough to kill the germs. And this link shows that most grills have a surface temperature over 300F anyway.

So your steak will be safe to eat, and if you season it well, nobody will tell the difference.

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Even if you don't cook the steak afterwards (that is, assuming it was properly cooked when it hit the floor), keep in mind that the human immune system is more capable than we give it credit for. Moreover, pathogens that do make us ill, such as E. Coli and Streptococcus, prefer moist areas with an easy supply of nutrients; our floors and counter-tops aren't typically their first choice for an abode.

The YouTube video 5 Second Rule by the amusing yet educational What You Ought to Know covers this topic, and includes references: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsYOGM7wyns

As already mentioned, I would probably rinse it off to get rid of the worst, as well as remove anything that may affect the final taste, but as my Swedish father always says, "Lite skit rensar magen."

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However it's proven false, i still would like to mention the following:

In our country we apply the 5 Second Rule, which is very populair.

It basicly comes down to this: Whatever kind of food you drop on the floor, if you pick it up in 5 seconds, it's ready to go!

Never had any complaints ;-)

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And it is absolutely wrong. Whatever the food picks up, it picks it up the moment it touches the floor. It doesn't matter if you pick it up at once, after 5 seconds, or after 5 minutes. You can decide if you want to eat the dirty food or not, but you shouldn't tell yourself that it's somehow safe if it didn't spend 5 seconds on the floor. –  rumtscho Sep 3 at 9:52
    
Ok so it is wrong, but i do think it's worth mentioning it here (just because it's a funny rule) –  Jeroen1984 Sep 3 at 9:56
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I find myself in a strange situation here. I agree with the argument that it's worth mentioning, especially when saying that it's wrong. At the same time, I believe that wrong answers should be downvoted, just to show the next person coming along that it's a bad idea. But if you are not recommending it, I feel bad for reducing your reputation with a downvote... argh. –  rumtscho Sep 3 at 10:05
    
It is a good idea to indicate that 5 second rule is wrong, especially given the popularity of it. However, including what is a the right thing to do would round off the answer and minimise downvotes. –  Stacey Sep 3 at 10:09
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Related reading: Researchers prove the five second rule is real –  blahdiblah Sep 3 at 23:50

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