Another Reason to Grill Food With Caution

Wire-bristle brushes used to clean grills can shed bristles that may become embedded in food, creating a health hazard. (Image: pixhook/

That staple of Fourth of July celebrations—the backyard barbeque grill—could have more than just burgers, steaks, or hot dogs cooking on its surface.

Just in time for this year’s Independence Day festivities, public health officials warn that wire-bristle cleaning brushes can shed bristles that may cling to the grill. If they become embedded in food and are swallowed, injuries serious enough to require emergency surgery can result.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns grill enthusiasts and physicians alike to be aware of potential hazards linked with grill-cleaning brushes. The report describes 6 cases in which people sought medical care at a Providence, RI, hospital system after they ate food cooked on grills cleaned with wire brushes. Six additional cases were reported at the same hospital system between July 2009 and November 2010, but the most recent cases occurred between March 14, 2011, and June 3, 2012.

Three of the patients, a woman and 2 men, had a wire bristle removed from soft tissues of the neck after swallowing became painful. Two men required emergency surgery to remove wire bristles that became lodged near the small intestine. Another man had a wire bristle removed from the sigmoid colon via colonoscopy. All 6 recovered fully.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is reviewing data on injuries related to grill-cleaning brushes to determine if certain products have specific defects that cause bristles to come loose, the CDC noted. The CPSC also will decide whether consumer warnings, product recalls, or other regulatory action is needed.

Currently, officials don’t have enough information to recommend safer brush brands or suggest whether bristles are more likely to stick to different types of grill surfaces. They’re also not sure whether whole cuts of meat or patties are more likely to pick up bristles, or whether dentures or other oral conditions increase the likelihood of swallowing bristles.

CDC officials urge consumers to carefully check their grills for bristles if they use wire cleaning brushes and to look for alternative cleaning methods. Officials also said that to provide rapid diagnoses and treatment, physicians and emergency department personnel should be aware of potentially severe injuries from grill brushes.

Categories: Emergency Medicine, Injury Prevention & Control, Public Health