John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Hundreds of Americans have been hospitalized after accidentally eating some nasty bristles.
It’s a time-honored Memorial Day tradition: Slapping some brats on the fire, slathering them with kraut and mustard, then driving to the ER to have sharp pieces of wire grill brush removed from your esophagus.
At least that’s what’s happening to scores of Americans, to believe a study in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. David Chang at the University of Missouri School of Medicine and others poured through consumer-injury records to extrapolate nearly 1,700 emergency-room visits from 2002 to 2014 caused by people eating brush wires. The problem is these implements can shed hard-to-see follicles that stick to the grill, which are transported via food into the throat, oral cavity, tonsils, and even less-fun places.
Folks who dismiss the dangers of the grill brush might want to peruse the Consumer Product Safety Information Database. Here is a sampling of many reports:
8/4/2015: I cleaned my grill with a wire bristle grill brush. Cooked some chicken and ate it. A bristle from the grill brush was dislodged and stuck to the meat I ate. I wound up in the Emergency room with severe abdominal pain to lower left quadrant. A CT scan revealed a 1.5cm long, piece of metal protruding through my intestine. An emergency bowel resection was performed to remove the section of intestine.
8/30/2014: One of the loose bristles from my BBQ grill brush got stuck in the hamburger I grilled, I chewed and swallowed the bite of hamburger and the bristle ended up embedded in my neck muscle. The bristle must have been bent over as I chewed and created a "spring action" as I swallowed and it shot into my neck. It felt like I had a stick pin lodged in my throat for 36 hours, but the doctors could not find it. After consulting 6 doctors (over a period of about 5 months), I found one who could see the foreign object on the original CT scan that was taken the first day after it happened.
8/27/2012: As soon as I bit into a piece of the brat I knew something was wrong. I could feel something cutting me, from inside my throat. I starting yelling at [REDACTED] that “Something is in my throat” It’s in my throat!!!! OMG it’s in my throat!!… Now I have been thru 3 Surgeries with no success. I have doctor and hospital bills totaling over $250,000.00 dollars. I have a scar on my neck from the 3rd surgery. This has been a complete nightmare for me and my Family.
And here is one such wire after a surgeon removed it—scroll past this quick if you don’t like the sight of blood:
Hospital visits tend to spike during the prime grilling months of June, July, and August. Here’s more from a university press release:
“One little bristle unrecognized could get lodged in various areas of the body, whether in the throat, tonsil or neck region,” Chang said. “If the bristle passes through those regions without lodging itself, it could get stuck further downstream in places like the esophagus, stomach or the intestine. The biggest worry is that it will lodge into those areas and get stuck in the wall of the intestine. The bristles could migrate out of the intestine and cause further internal damage.”
Chang said that the number of injuries found from wire-bristle brushes could be even larger than his 1,698 estimate, since his study did not include injuries treated at urgent care facilities or other outpatient settings. This data could lead to better protective measures from individuals and wire-bristle brush manufacturers, he said.
If you feel pain while swallowing after eating something grilled, the researchers say, it’s possible a hospital visit could be warranted. To prevent such awfulness, inspect your brush for loose wires and pick through any foodstuff that was grilled before eating it. Some manufacturers also recommend not brushing a grill while it’s still hot.