Wire grill brushes can be a health hazard

Q: I heard that wire grill brushes can be a grilling hazard. Is that true?

A: It's grilling season, arguably the greatest time of the year to enjoy one of life's greatest pastimes.

Despite my seasonal allergies, I fire up my grill every chance I get. I'm a traditional charcoal guy, and before each grill session, I make sure my grill is cleaned out, the charcoal is topped off and my grill grate is scrubbed to the point where it is clean enough to cook a choice piece of meat. Until a recent case, I religiously used a traditional wire brush for this task ... but not anymore and not ever again!

Several weeks ago, I had a patient in the emergency department with severe, unrelenting abdominal pain. A CT scan showed a metallic object poking through her small bowel. I took her to the operating room for exploratory surgery. To my surprise, I found a metal bristle poking through her small intestine. I plucked it out with some hemostats, then sealed the area with some sutures.

The patient reported recently eating some grilled chicken at a family cookout. She confirmed a traditional metal wire grill brush had been used to scrub the grill grate. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence. With scrubbing, the wire bristles can become dislodged from the brush and attach to the grate. The loose bristle can stick to a piece of food on the grill. There have been cases of metal bristles getting stuck in patients' tongues, throats, stomachs, and intestines. Unfortunately, surgery is frequently needed to remove the bristle and repair the affected organ. Thankfully, this is one peril that can be easily avoided by tossing your wire brush and replacing it with a safer alternative.

In the case of my patient, I am happy to report she did very well and trust that she is planning on grilling with her family this Fourth of July.

Dr. Richard Tanner is a general surgeon with University Surgical Associates and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.

  photo  Dr. Richard Tanner


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