Summer danger: Swallowing bristles from grill-cleaning brushes


Would you like some brush bristles on that burger?

Emergency rooms are seeing a small, but higher than might be suspected, number of admissions caused by the consumption of sharp, wiry bristles that snap off grill-cleaning brushes and then adhere to food slapped on the grill.

When victims swallow the needle-like bristles, they can suffer a variety of injuries, including puncture wounds to the soft tissue of the neck or perforation of the gastrointestinal tract so severe it requires emergency surgery.

The photos above show, quite vividly, how the bristles can pierce the digestive system and become lodged in the body. Most victims have no idea what sent them to the hospital, but many report severe pain when swallowing. The common denominator? They recently ate grilled food.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted the unusual problem and released the images as part of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published Friday.

To be sure, this is not an epidemic. But, based on just one Rhode Island hospital’s experience, such incidents might be far more common than expected, says the CDC. A series of six cases of mistakenly ingested wire bristles were reported at the hospital during a 17-month period from July 2009 to November 2010. That same hospital reported six more cases in a 16-month period ending last month.
The CDC is hoping that casting a spotlight on these cases will help people avoid them.

(Attention, Grillmeisters: This means closely examining the surface of your grill for any left-behind bristles -- or finding alternative grill-cleaning methods that won’t send your guests to the emergency room.)

Moreover, the CDC is hoping that public awareness can help doctors identify the problem in patients who might end up in the emergency room without knowing what sent them there. “These bristles are small, and can be quite difficult to visualize on plain radiographs and CT [scans],” the CDC says.

What about the brushes and bristles themselves? Is anything being done to make those safer?

The CDC says that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is currently reviewing the injury data to determine if there is an identifiable pattern of product defect or anything that would necessitate a consumer warning, product recall, or other action.



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