Even in the era of COVID-19, Florida-based dentist Billy Kay wants people to be able to blow on their birthday cake and let guests eat it, too.
Kay, who lives in Boca Raton and specializes in prosthetic dentistry, said he often ruminated on how many germs are spread when people blow out their birthday candles. For about 30 years, the grandfather of four thought about different ways to protect cakes from the invisible spit particles that most party goers chose to ignore. In March, however, a lot more people were suddenly very concerned about germs with onset of the pandemic. So Kay decided to create a prototype out of one of his many ideas he had been storing away.
By April, he had manufactured the very first Top It Cake Shield and now the product is set to officially launch online Sept. 15.
The cake shield is made from food-grade, FDA-approved recycled polystyrene that's manufactured in Kay's home state. Designed for quarter-sheet cakes, round cakes up to 10 inches and single slices, each shield contains a flat base and a cover with sides that overlap and snap together to seal the cake inside. According to the company, the larger shields will retail for $14.99 and the individual slice model will be $4.99.
Though a patent for the product is still pending, a spokesperson for Top It confirmed that the cake shields are still expected to launch in about two weeks.
"Never has something affected us all with such a vengeance and with such devastating consequences like COVID-19. In the past, spread of disease came, but was more selective and shorter in duration," Kay told TODAY. "We have all now witnessed a global event that has changed our perception of safety."
Having worked inside patients' mouths for 40 years, Kay said he has always been acutely aware of germs and how they spread. But now, he said he thinks people are more concerned than ever about the relative safety of simple actions, like blowing out candles.
"Now more than ever, it is unlikely anyone will consider eating cake that someone blows on," Kay said. "This tradition is engrained in cultures throughout the world and needs to be upheld."
The dentist maintained that his invention will "help keep this tradition (of blowing out candles) alive."
A recycled cake shield may sound like a knight in shining armor swooping in to save this age-old birthday tradition, but will a plastic device actually prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and germs?
According to Dr. Zehra Aygen, a pediatrician who specializes in treating infectious diseases, the Top It Cake Shield has the potential to help guard a cake that's being blown on.
"As long as it seals so it's not touching the cake ... and there's nothing open and the candle is going on top of the plastic, it will be OK," Aygen told TODAY, adding that she has not tested the device personally so could not be certain of its relative effectiveness.
While the shield can protect the cake, it won't protect other people or surrounding surfaces from being hit with germs. To help mitigate the spread of viruses during birthday celebrations, Aygen strongly suggested only blowing out candles outside.
"They should not do it indoors, anyway, because blowing is just going to go everywhere. If they really want, they can blow it out on their own piece of cake and do it outside. Or just skip the candle," Aygen said. "Always, blowing is going to make any germ travel further. So if everyone's around the table, even if it's just the cake in front of the kid, blowing is going to spread it around."
So before blowing out that cake, shielded or not, allow guests to spread out and away from the birthday guest of honor before belting out those final notes of the "Happy Birthday" song.
Then again, there's always Lester Holt's solution of "clapping out" the candles.