April 10, 2018

You’ll never blow out birthday candles again after reading this

Wellness Illness

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Birthday Cake Photo Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Indulging in a nice, thick slice of sheet cake is one of the many perks — or depending on how you look at it, consolations — of growing older. Completing another revolution around the sun is certainly cause for celebration, with many festivities including the communal enjoyment of cake, a true fan favorite when it comes to birthday treats. However, questions remain as to whether or not the age-old tradition of blowing out birthday candles poses a threat to our immune systems through the spread of airborne bacteria.

Keep the cake, lose the germs

Many of us have grown up consuming countless slices of cake without any incident or consequence. And yet, it is an undeniable fact that when candles are extinguished, a fine mist of bioaerosols is dispersed across a cake’s surface layer. This was studied by the Journal of Food Research, which found that the act of blowing out candles burning atop a birthday cake increase the presence of bacteria by 1,400%. The good news? There are still plenty of ways to protect yourself from these germs while also enjoying the sugary goodness of birthday cake.

Skip the candles if the birthday boy or girl is sick

While it may seem like common sense, if the candle-blower in question is clearly sick, or even recovering from a recent illness, encourage them to skip the candle blowing tradition this time. 

It’s also worth noting that many people are highly contagious before symptoms of illness are even present, so it’s important to remain vigilant when it comes to preventing the spread of germs. Practices like washing your hands, disinfecting household surfaces, boosting your immune system with the help of vitamins and supplements, and avoiding touching your face can help thwart the spread of dangerous bacteria.

Don’t let worry crash your party

On the flip side, exposure to some bacteria isn’t always a bad thing. We are all subject to germs on a daily basis, and this exposure often helps to build up our immune systems and protect us from truly harmful pathogens that have the potential to cause disease. Studies have also shown that exposure to bacteria during a child’s formative years can decrease sensitivity to allergic and autoimmune diseases later in life.

If you still want to have your cake and eat it too, opting for birthday cupcakes is a great compromise. Skip the candles — and by extension, any worrying bacterial elements — by allowing party guests to choose and handle their own individually portioned treats. Cupcakes also allow for more variety when it comes to flavor, giving party guests more icing or topping options.

Healthy habits make happy birthdays

In the end, unless the candle-blower is clearly sick with a virus or contagious illness, it is unlikely that you will get sick from a slice of birthday cake. Sticking with habits that keep your immune system in check, like taking the time to wash your hands and getting enough vitamins, is the best way reduce your risk of getting sick.