Be honest: Most of us have some pretty gross food habits. From the three-second rule to eating leftovers wayyyy past their prime, we all do some questionable things in the name of hunger. But we bet you never thought about what happens when you blow out birthday candles on your special day, and you might want to sit down for this.
A new study revealed that blowing out birthday candles increases bacteria on the cake by 1,400 percent, which is downright disgusting if you’re a germophobe.
So even though it’s one of the best time-honored traditions around, it turns out it’s actually, well, pretty gross.
The study, aptly titled “Bacterial Transfer Associated with Blowing Out Candles on a Birthday Cake,” was conducted by food safety professors at Clemson University. It examined “the potential spread of bacteria” when we blow out those candles and tested what happens after subjects enjoyed some hot, greasy pizza and then made a wish for their next year on earth.
The researchers found that “blowing out the candles over the icing surface resulted in 1400% more bacteria compared to icing not blown on,” adding, “[due] to the transfer of oral bacteria to icing by blowing out birthday candles, the transfer of bacteria and other microorganisms from the respiratory tract of a person blowing out candles to food consumed by others is likely.”
If you’re not completely grossed out yet, researchers found that some participants spread almost no bacteria, while others were a little more…generous. Paul Dawson, a Clemson University professor of food safety, told The Atlantic that “some people blow on the cake and they don’t transfer any bacteria. Whereas you have one or two people who really for whatever reason…transfer a lot of bacteria.”
He was quick to point out, though, that he doesn’t believe it is a big health concern, saying, “in reality if you did this 100,000 times, then the chance of getting sick would probably be very minimal,” and we’d be well aware by now if there were some sort of outbreak of illnesses from Chuck E. Cheese’s parties around the country.
It’s generally safe to say that as long as the candle-blower isn’t clearly sick, your chances of picking up something germy are pretty slim. Still, we’re not sure we will be able to shake the image at our nephew’s next birthday party. Maybe we’ll just stick to the fruit platter.