Food-Safe Or Stupid...What's Your Cutoff?

So...the issue of food safety once again...I was thinking about this the other day as I was using feathers in a gumpaste arrangement. The idea of feathers on cakes is itself just kind of ewwww, so I took the already-sterilized feathers, bleached them, wrapped them, rigged them up so they wouldn't make cake contact, and generally spent way too much time thinking about it.

It's like the horse meat thing. Why do people in other countries say sure, give me a piece of that filly, but in the US we shudder and run the other way? Yet we have no problem eating a cow, pig or chicken.

When you decorate a cake with real flowers, you'll definitely be putting the flower up against the icing, so contact will be made. That means contact with pesticides, fertilizers, strange chemicals that florists put on the flowers to preserve them, spray dyes that they use to color them, dirt from the fields where they're grown, and whatever other stuff got on them through the process of cutting and shipping them. Yet the person who has no problem using fresh flowers on a cake will have a fit about using a feather that's been sterilized and rigged up so that it doesn't touch the cake at all.

There was also the recent hysteria about using that freeze spray stuff when people found out that it's the same thing that you use to clean your computer keyboards. Well, if you read labels you'd know it was the same stuff, duh, and if you investigated it you'd find out that it doesn't leave a residue. It's the propellants in it that can cause trouble if you get the wrong kind. On the other hand, I wouldn't start huffing it straight from the can either, so what's the cutoff?

Also the use of disco dust. I've seen it sprinkled all over cupcakes and cake icing even though it's just tiny pieces of plastic. But people wave their hand dismissively and say "it's never bothered any of my clients, so what?" They might not have anyone with digestive diseases as clients, who knows. But those same decorators might not want to use fresh flowers because of the fertilizers on them.

And people who won't use fresh flowers because of the issues with that go right ahead and use cake mixes, which have their own assortment of chemical additives in them. Then they dump flavored coffee creamer into said mixes to make a "gourmet" flavor. More man-made chemicals. So on one end you have no flower chemicals, but you're loading up on others on the other end.

I personally think that if you have the opportunity to not expose yourself to anything you don't need to be exposed to, then you should avoid what you can. But I'm also a soda addict (thank you, caffeine migraine) so people could wave the finger of guilt at me as well.

So I'll go about my business of trying to avoid what chemicals I can in the food that I'm dealing with, and I'll also try not to have a hysterical overreaction before investigating when someone posts something about the newest food danger lurking around the corner. I figure that if I'm selling a cake to someone I should probably make it as "clean" as possible, so that they're not getting something they didn't count on.

What are your limits as far as food safety goes? Do you have a pet peeve about something that other people do to their cakes and you would never do?

 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and