March 17, 2013|By Gary Glen
A Washington state man was recently admitted to the hospital after complaining of abdominal pain. Doctors later performed emergency surgery to remove a wire bristle from his intestinal tract. The man says he must have swallowed the steel bristle from a grill brush which he used to clean his grill earlier that day.
While fires, injuries from burns or illness from undercooked meat seem to be the main concerns of backyard grilling enthusiasts, should wire brush bristles be another topic of concern? Recent studies indicate that is indeed the case.
In its July 6th issue of Morbidity and Mortality Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a series of six cases from a single hospital system during March 2011–June 2012. The severity of the injuries ranged from punctures of the soft tissues of the neck, causing severe pain on swallowing, to perforations of the gastrointestinal tract requiring emergency surgery. Keep in mind; these observations are from only one hospital system.
A previous study in the April, 2012 edition of the American Journal of Radiology supports the CDC findings.
The main objective of the CDC report is to raise awareness of this potential injury among health-care professionals in order to facilitate a timely diagnosis and treatment, while the main objective of this particular article is to raise awareness of this issue to you, the reader. Understanding the symptoms may be invaluable when communicating with health care providers should the situation arise.
What are the symptoms?
Severe pain on swallowing was the chief symptom in three of the six patients. In all three of these patients, a wire bristle from a grill-cleaning brush was found in the neck. All three were treated successfully with laryngoscopic removal of the wire bristle.
Severe abdominal pain was the symptom of the other patients. Two patients underwent emergency abdominal surgery to retrieve the foreign object and repair the intestine. In one patient, the wire had not perforated the intestine and was removed via colonoscopy.
Of course, there is one main diagnostic question that should be answered if any of the above symptoms persist. Was a grilled meal recently consumed? If so, was a wire brush used to clean the cooking grates?
What is the solution?
To date, the CDC has not issued certain recommendations. According to their report, “The findings suggest that such incidents might be more common than previously suspected. The continued occurrence of injuries from ingested wire bristles warrants further investigation and action.”
Additionally, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) currently is reviewing available grill-cleaning brush–related injury data to determine if an identifiable pattern of product defect could pose an unreasonable risk for injury or death, necessitating a consumer warning, product recall, or other regulatory action.
The CDC did issue the following preliminary suggestions:
Before cooking, persons should examine the grill surface carefully for the presence of bristles that might have dislodged from the grill brush and could embed in cooked food. Alternative residential grill-cleaning methods or products might be considered.
A grill master’s solution
- If using a wire brush, maintenance is critical. An old wore out brush is more susceptible to bristle loss. Replace at least once a year. Twice a year is recommended if the grill is used often.
- Brush off the grates with a quick sweep of a whisk broom or an old paint brush.
- After brushing, wipe the grates with a cooking oil dampened paper towel. This also assures a well-oiled cooking grate.
- As the CDC mentioned, visual inspection of the cooking surface may be the best defense.
- As an alternative, crumbled heavy-duty aluminum foil works well.
- Above all, regular cleaning is important. Allow the grates to warm and clean before each cook. A wire bristle is more likely to stick to a grease-encrusted cooking grate.
Although the findings may be alarming, a bit of caution is all that is required to insure a safe and enjoyable barbecue.
This article was originally published at Gary Glen’s Barbeque Column at the Examiner. To read more of his work, click here.