Happy birthday thoo you!

Researchers, I have always assumed, perhaps audaciously and inappropriately so, are rather awfully late to come to any conclusion, even on matters that appear conclusive on face value.

No hurrah to them, for by earth's timeline, they have only recently discovered, that too with relative conservatism, that blowing out candles could make birthday cakes unsafe for human consumption. Now, you do realise that birthdays have been in vogue since the birth of the second person.

According to a 2017 research paper, on a study undertaken at South Carolina's Clemson University, "blowing out candles on a birthday cake increases the growth of bacteria on the dessert" by a whopping 1,400 percent. You don't need scientific investigation to infer that you could possibly, rather most certainly, splatter saliva on the cake while you blow the candles. That is more so because almost no one can blow out the candles the first time, except the gregarious one who whooshes hard, which means more rain. You may have wondered why some cakes taste different.

They are now also telling us (hah!) the human mouth contains many bacteria, but this was also known since Galileo Galilei discovered a microscope. Hmmm 1609! Thankfully, after looking up from their lenses, scientists also assure us (are they sure?) that not all of the spewed specks of drool are harmful; normally, that is, unless you detest spit.

It is further comforting to know that only a sick person blowing out the candles could transmit the infection. This was long before Covid. But, wait! Head of the research, food safety professor Paul Dawson adds that, "you have one or two people who really for whatever reason… (Pray, what could that reason be?) transfer a lot of bacteria". And that could be your host.

Being a diabetic for over 1.5 decades (healthy living demands diagnosis in decimals), I am fortunate to have a therapeutic excuse for not having to oblige the birthday person (girl or boy is so sexist. Yuch!) with a bite of the splattered cake.

Then there is this bizarre and thoughtless ritual of sharing the same piece of cake from one mouth to a different mouth, not to be confused with lifesaving resuscitation. People mind if you move away from their "charitable" offering. But, you must, to save yourself and the others from you.

I have found a getaway from that inevitable cake-kiss. For a head start, stay as far back as protocol allows from the table. As soon as the happy birthday song and the cheering commences, signalling that the cake has been spat upon, start moving your jaws in a biting, chewing or eating manner, enjoying. Avoid engaging in any conversation and all eye contact. Soon enough, the frenzy of sharing shall calm down. You may also stop making a fool of yourself.

You never know what those fingers touched last. The index could have been exploring possibilities in the nostrils, one at a time. The little one may have ventured to engage an itching irritation in the depth of the auditory orifice. The middle? For heaven's sake, this is a family newspaper.

There are more opportunities for infection. Someone travelling to the party from home or workplace may have had to pay the CNG driver or the rickshaw-puller with authentic taka. There was no mandatory condition pre-Covid to wash hands for 20 seconds. Never understood though why one TV channel kept on streaming that we have to wash "20 times a day". Not necessary at all, if we are in a safe bubble. Also, there could be reason to wash them more than 20 times.

To further our problem, you know as much as I that not every toilet has soap to cleanse after the relief work. Which brings me to a sticky point. While many foods and goods can be purchased with money, researchers have found out that there are other things stuck on the notes and coins that one does not bargain for.

Currency notes move from hand to hand, squeezed too between his lips and hers, and where not, accumulating unseen bugs and germs. According to research findings (2019) by a Khulna University student Nishat Tasnim, unbeknownst to us innocent victims, such "taka notes and coins contain bacteria like E. coli and faecal (read human waste matter) coliform which are very harmful to health".

Environmental science researchers at the university laboratory tested currency notes and coins from 15 random sources in Khulna city over a period of six months, revealing that vegetarians are comparatively more safe because "maximum bacteria and faecal (stool) bacteria were found on notes used by the sellers of meat, fish and chicken".

Harmful bacteria were also found from the currency notes and coins of 12 other sources, (OMG!) said professor Abdullah Harun Chowdhury, the concerned research supervisor. He added that currency notes pose a severe health hazard, including causing various diseases, when people eat without washing their hands after touching currency and coins.

From a hygienic perspective, we should also take precautions as vendor and buyer, and not talk and hassle over Iftar items during Ramadan, showering the delicacies with spit. There is the additional hazard of people touching and poking, picking up food with unwashed hands, and returning them to the tray. The unsuspecting next customer will accept the polluted food.

Sellers and the customers also touch food items after transacting money, and letting their hands wander anywhere. There is so much to touch and so many places that itch. That is why we should avoid manhandled food, or alternatively encourage healthy practice on both sides of the food counter.

Coming back to saliva, I have never found a good reason for chefs talking incessantly while preparing, cooking, baking, grilling, plating and serving food except perhaps to add an extra ingredient; salt is not on my mind. Not many people in the world can speak with squeezed lips. And ventriloquists earn a lot more than the normal cook. What is there to say? The proof should be in the pudding, or cake.

Happy birthday to you all!


Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising Architect at BashaBari Ltd., a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.


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