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June 18, 2007
Volume 85, Number 25
p. 80

Contaminated Food

According to an urban legend, Julia Child dropped a turkey on the floor during her cooking show, picked it up, dusted it off, and put it on a platter, saying to the camera, "Remember, you're alone in the kitchen." While Newscripts is happy to report that the incident never took place, it's a nice segue to another food-related myth: the FIVE-SECOND RULE. It's a reassuring piece of conventional wisdom that says a piece of food is okay to eat if it's picked up within five seconds of falling on the floor. The rule is more likely to be cited if the food in question is a brownie or some other sweet treat as opposed to something less tempting like a Brussels sprout.

Floored: Think twice before eating that bread!

While invoking such an arbitrary rule can be convenient, empirical evidence confirms that germs will stick to most foods on contact. In 2003, Jillian Clarke, a high school intern at the University of Illinois, conducted a study by contaminating ceramic tiles with Escherichia coli, then placing gummy bears and cookies on the tiles for five seconds. In all cases, the food became contaminated. The rule was also debunked on a 2005 episode of the Discovery Channel TV show "Mythbusters."

Also, a new study from Paul L. Dawson and colleagues at Clemson University, in South Carolina, provides some hard data on just how badly contaminated food can get. The researchers tested the transfer of Salmonella typhimurium from tile, wood, and carpet to bologna and bread (J. Appl. Microbiol. 2007, 102, 945).

The study found that bacteria could survive for up to four weeks on dry surfaces in high enough populations to be transferred to food. Even though the rate of transfer decreased as the length of time that the bacteria resided on the surface increased, more than 99% of bacterial cells had transferred from the tile to the bologna at five seconds after exposure. The bottom line: Bacteria can survive long enough to cross-contaminate other foods. The moral: if you drop a piece of food, pick it up quickly and take a few extra seconds to consider whether eating it is worth the risk.

Playing Games With Elements

Courtesy of Anshul Samar
Cards: Anyone up for a game of chemistry?

The buzz at the recent TiEcon 2007 expo centered around 13-year-old entrepreneur Anshul Samar, chief executive officer of Elementeo, a Silicon Valley start-up. TiE is a not-for-profit network of entrepreneurs and professionals, and TiEcon is the organization's annual event, which is billed as the largest convention for entrepreneurs. Samar's product is a fantasy CARD GAME designed to change the way children learn about chemistry. His dictum: Create. Combat. Conquer.

Elementeo is based on a 66-card deck of chemical elements, compounds, and catalysts, called "the lab." Each element card has the valence number, atomic number, and symbol along with an explanation of its uses and properties. Each player uses a deck to do battle, placing cards on a grid and moving them based on their properties. For example, an Oxygen card beats an Iron card. The goal is to reduce your opponent's IQ down to zero. Any parent whose child collects Yu-Gi-Oh! cards will immediately see the similarities to Elementeo, but with chemicals instead of fantasy creatures.

Like any good entrepreneur, Samar is in the process of securing funding to manufacture his game. At the convention, he booked nearly 500 preorders for the game. He's already received a $500 seed grant but has his sights set on $100,000 in funding to help him reach his goal of $1 million in first-year revenues-by the time he graduates eighth grade in June 2008.

To learn more about Elementeo, go to www.elementeo.com/home. To see a video of Samar pitching his product, go to the VentureBeat website at venturebeat.com/2007/05/19/elementeos-13-year-old-ceo-highlight-of-tiecon.

This week's column was written by Corinne Marasco. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.