Be careful the next time you eat a hamburger or other product cooked on an outdoor grill. There could be danger lurking in the form of undetected wire bristles left by grill-cleaning brushes. The problem is so serious that the Center For Disease Control (CDC) and Consumer Reports regularly issue consumer warnings.
The small wires can work their way into the hamburgers or other food being grilled, and then into you. Such ingestions happen, and the results are not only extremely painful but deadly if not treated immediately, usually with emergency surgery.
According to a study published in 2016 in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, an estimated 1,700 Americans went to an emergency room between 2002 and 2014 after having ingested wire bristles in grilled food and one-fourth of them had to be admitted to the hospital. Those are only the reported ER visits and there were likely patients who went to urgent care facilities or other outpatient settings.
According to a study by the CDC, injuries from grill brushes were reported most often to the mouth and throat, but people have also sustained stomach and intestinal injuries after swallowing a bristle that’s hidden in food. Injuries ranged from puncture of the soft tissues of the throat, causing severe pain when swallowing, to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract. Some patients underwent emergency abdominal surgery to retrieve the foreign object and repair the intestine.
TO PREVENT SUCH OCCURRENCES, check your grill brush and its bristles before using it. If it appears worn or like some bristles are missing, don’t use it. Before grilling, examine the grill surface carefully for bristles that may have dislodged from the brush and could then embed in cooked food.
Consumer Reports suggests you also might try cleaning warm grill grates with a tool such as a pumice stone or a coil-shaped bristle-free brush. Check your owner’s manual for recommendations. Crumpled-up aluminum foil also helps get food particles off a warm grate, but be careful so you don’t burn yourself.