Wire-bristle Grill Brushes: Study Warns On Injury Danger

Although cleaning your barbecue grill seems like healthy idea, new research is showing that more than 1,600 people went to the emergency room because of injuries from wire-bristle grill brushes from 2002 to 2014.

The loose wire bristles can fall off the brush during cleaning and wind up in the grilled food, which, when eaten, can lead to injuries in the mouth, throat, and tonsils. Ouch!

University of Missouri School of Medicine associate professor of otolaryngology David Chang said:

“Wire-bristle brush injuries are a potential consumer safety issue, so it is important that people, manufacturers, and health providers be aware of the problem. If doctors are unaware that this problem exists, they may not order the appropriate tests or capture the correct patient history to reach the right diagnosis.”

Chang assessed consumer injury databases to find out how many emergency department visits were caused by wire-bristle injuries. The most common injuries reported were in patients’ mouths, throats, and tonsils, with some injuries requiring surgery.

“One little bristle unrecognized could get lodged in various areas of the body, whether in the throat, tonsil, or neck region,” Chang says. “If the bristle passes through those regions without lodging itself, it could get stuck further downstream in places like the esophagus, stomach, or the intestine.

The biggest worry is that it will lodge into those areas and get stuck in the wall of the intestine. The bristles could migrate out of the intestine and cause further internal damage.”

Better Protective Measures Needed

Chang says that the number of injuries found from wire-bristle brushes could be even more than his 1,698 estimate, since his study did not include injuries treated at urgent care facilities or other outpatient settings. This data could lead to better protective measures from individuals and wire-bristle brush manufacturers, he says.

Chang recommends the following tips for people this grilling season:

  • Use caution when cleaning grills with wire-bristle brushes, examining brushes before each use and discarding if bristles are loose.
  • Inspect your grill’s cooking grates before cooking, or use alternative cleaning methods such as nylon-bristle brushes or balls of tin foil.
  • Inspect grilled food carefully after cooking to make sure bristles are not stuck to the food.

“If cautionary measures fail and individuals do experience problems with swallowing or pain after eating something that has been barbecued or grilled, they should seek advice from a physician or an emergency department and let the physician know that they were just at a barbecue event or they just grilled food,” Chang says.

Tiffany P. Baugh, Jamie B. Hadley, and C. W. David Chang
Epidemiology of Wire-Bristle Grill Brush Injury in the United States, 2002-2014
Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery April 2016 154: 645-649, doi:10.1177/0194599815627794

Photo: John Tornow/Flickr