Should You Blow Out Your Candles Like Mitt Romney? Probably, Scientist Says

"I think he is considerate of others that might be eating his birthday dessert," Clemson University Professor Paul Dawson told

Mitt Romney got a lot of flak this week for how he blew out his birthday candles — painstakingly removing them from the cake one by one — but might he actually have the right idea?

According to Clemson University Professor Paul Dawson, a food scientist and one of the authors of "Did You Just Eat That?" Romney was actually being thoughtful when he extinguished the candles individually on the Twinkie cake that his co-workers gave him.

"I think he is considerate of others that might be eating his birthday dessert," Dawson told "He is sparing others that might eat the cake or other food that has candles being blown out [from germs]."

Romney himself told TMZ that he had a cold. "I didn't want to spray my germs all over the Twinkies for everybody else to eat!" he said. 

Birthday celebrations traditionally involve the person being feted leaning forward and blowing out candles. But some scientists have long cautioned against that, pointing out that doing so coats the cake in a layer of microorganisms from your mouth. 

"We found an average of nearly 3,000 more bacteria on cake that had candles blown out compared to cake with no candles being blown out," Dawson said. "Of course there is a lot of variation between people, but we found as many as 37,000 bacteria on cake after being blown out by a sloppy blower."

Dawson added that he didn't know of any documented cases of people getting sick from eating a slice of cake where the candles had been blown out, but said the "odds are that it has happened."

However, he clarified that he doesn't think blowing out candles should be banned. When in doubt, avoid the cake if the candle-blower is clearly sick; otherwise, feel free to enjoy that dessert. "There are many other things in life with a much higher risk," he said. 

One thing you can do to protect yourself? Scrape off the icing. "The microbes are landing on top of the cake and would not likely be able to get through the icing," Dawson said. 

But, he added, "Who wants cake without icing?"