Your barbecue may end up seriously injuring you.
Not in a way you'd expect – burns from the flames or cuts from the steak knife, for example – but rather because of your grill cleaner.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a warning two summers ago about internal injuries caused by accidentally eating the wire bristles commonly found on grill-cleaning brushes. The release highlighted a series of six cases in Rhode Island over a 16-month period, where people were hurt by the wire bristles.
The severity ranged from "puncture of the soft tissues of the neck, causing severe pain on swallowing, to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract" – a hole in the wall of your stomach, small intestine, large bowel, etc. etc. – "requiring emergent surgery."
Just this Tuesday, a Texas woman ended up in the emergency room after accidentally swallowing a wire bristle, FOX 9 reports. Karen Dunlap tells the station she felt something hard when chewing and assumed it was char – but when she swallowed, realized it was not an edible food.
At the ER, doctors found the wire of a grill brush stuck in her throat, FOX 9 says.
The station spoke with some local barbecue experts about grill cleaning safety, including Jim Lee at Frattallone's Ace Hardware in St. Louis Park, and Nathan Thompson, co-creator of the Great Scrape grill cleaning paddle.
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In Seattle last year, a 16-year-old was taken to the hospital when he couldn't stop throwing up, the Seattle Times reported. The teenager assumed it was stomach cramps or a virus; doctors ran a multitude of tests to determine the cause, the Times said.
Finally, the culprit was discovered – a piece of grill-brush wire, described as the size of a short strand of hair, that had lodged in his small intestine after apparently getting stuck on a piece of grilled chicken nearly two weeks earlier, the Seattle Times reported. He had surgery and was expected to make a full recovery, the paper said.
And just last fall, a teen in Delaware suffered a punctured colon from a grill brush bristle, NBC 10 reported. She recovered and is now fine, the station said.
At the time of the Rhode Island injuries, CBS News spoke with a doctor who said it's important to inspect your grill surface for any foreign material (such as a small grill-brush wire) before firing it up. He recommended using a moist cloth or paper towel to clean the grill, rather than a wire brush.
Barbecue industry writer Derrick Riches did a piece for About.com outlining some alternatives to wire grill brushes. He said there are wood scrapers available, a nylon bristle brush, and even Grillfloss (which hooks around each grate one-by-one). Then there's the old trick of using a cut-in-half onion, he said.
Grill company Weber says to always inspect a brush for signs of wear, and replace it if bristles seem to dislodge easily.