Fourth of July grilling tip: Check for stray bristles after cleaning with a wire brush

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Like millions of Americans, I plan to fire up the grill today for a Fourth of July cookout. But I’ll be adding an extra step to my routine: checking the grate for bristles that may have fallen off my cleaning brush.

Over the years, a handful of reports in medical journals have chronicled injuries due to eating grilled food with a stowaway — a wire bristle from a grill-cleaning brush. Earlier this year, a team of Harvard-affiliated doctors described how they removed a wire bristle from a woman who went to an emergency room with pain in her throat that started after eating a chicken breast prepared on a grill.

In the summer of 2012, a nicely timed article by a team of Rhode Island emergency room physicians described six people injured by consuming grill-cleaning bristles hidden in grilled meat. Three had abdominal pain from wire bristles poking through the small intestine or colon. Three others had bristles stuck in the neck. All of the wire bristles were safely removed with open surgery or laparoscopy (“keyhole” surgery). The same team had published a report of six other cases earlier that year in the American Journal of Roentgenology.

Twelve cases from one medical center over a three-year period does not an epidemic make. But it’s enough to suggest that wire bristles end up in food wherever home grilling is going on — which means every city, town, and unincorporated area in the United States — but may not be suspected as the cause of post-barbeque neck or abdominal pain.

Stay bristle free

You are more likely to get food poisoning from eating undercooked meat, poultry, or seafood than from swallowing a leftover grill-cleaning bristle. So the first order of business for grilling is to follow safe grilling practices.

There are several ways to keep your grill bristle free. If your grill-cleaning brush has seen multiple summers, maybe it’s time for a new one. After you use a brush to clean your grill rack, use a towel or wadded up bunch of paper towels to wipe it down.

If you feel pain in your neck or abdomen after a cookout, let your doctor know you’ve recently had food cooked on a backyard grill.

According to the CDC article, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission is reviewing data on injuries related to grill-cleaning brushes to see 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.”

Whether you are grilling or not, all of us at Harvard Health Publications wish you a safe and healthy Fourth of July.

(An earlier version of this article was posted on July 4, 2012.)

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  4. Katrina

    I think this article have changed our thought about eating grill.

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    Thank you for this useful information, God Bless.

  9. may678

    My wife went out and bought me a new one. It is one without the metal bristles instead it has a hard plastic scouring pad and it works well.

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    • http://batibocekilaclama.com/anadolu-yakasi-bocek-ilaclama-firmasi

      You may want to check out your local janitorial supplier as they will have grill cleaning equipment for professional kitchens. 3M have a cleaning system with a handle and interchangeable pads. There are abrasive pads for caked on oils and more gentle pads for non-stick surfaces. We use them in our cleaning company for a cleaning ovens and stripping floor seals.

  17. Shamim Reza

    thank you for this post. hope this gonna help me while i am cooking 😛

  18. Icah Ats

    Thank you very much for share..

  19. David Allen

    You may want to check out your local janitorial supplier as they will have grill cleaning equipment for professional kitchens. 3M have a cleaning system with a handle and interchangeable pads. There are abrasive pads for caked on oils and more gentle pads for non-stick surfaces. We use them in our cleaning company for a cleaning ovens and stripping floor seals.

  20. Mike

    Is there any other way to clean the grills using grill cleaning brushes? I’m not comfortable using them ever since.

  21. Buba Brazil

    My wife went out and bought me a new one. It is one without the metal bristles instead it has a hard plastic scouring pad and it works well.

  22. Anonymous

    My wife went out and bought me a new one. It is one without the metal bristles instead it has a hard plastic scouring pad and it works well.

  23. Mike

    Is there any other way to clean the grills using grill cleaning brushes? I’m not comfortable using them ever since.

    Mike

  24. andy

    thank for this important information. i will check my grill now frequently

  25. Ern

    This one is another precaution we have to remember even though we are on for a festive occasion, even just a weekend grilling experience. Good advice. Ern

  26. Anonymous

    This is an important consideration for those of us who love to grill! Thank you for the information.

  27. elbirtus.info

    i’ve checked it, and it still good and cool. and happy fourth

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