This grilling hazard is sending people to the hospital

Grilling in the summertime likely evokes fond memories. Parents standing by the grill in aprons, children playing in the grass alongside them – all laughing and having a pleasant afternoon.

But not all grilling experiences end with such joy. In fact, some incidents result in visits to the hospital as a result of wire bristle barbecue brushes.

Yes, adults and children alike are ingesting the pesky bristles that break off from these brushes when they're used to clean grills. These bristles are evidently embedding themselves into food and in turn, people's bodies. One study found U.S. emergency rooms reported more than 1,600 wire bristle grill brush injuries between 2002 and 2014.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention morbidity and mortality report from 2012 highlights the issue, citing cases from March 2011 to June 2012. "The severity of injury ranged from puncture of the soft tissues of the neck, causing severe pain on swallowing, to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract requiring emergent surgery," according to the report.

Even as recently as this month there have been severalreports of wire bristle hospitalizations. One Canadian woman wrote a Facebook post pleading with people to never use a metal barbecue brush after her son got a bristle stuck in his throat.

"Just minutes after eating BBQ chicken last night Ollie started crying and complaining there was something stuck and hurting his throat," Jenna Kuchik wrote. "X-ray confirmed a few hours later that there was indeed a metal bbq brush bristle in my little boy's throat. Throughout the 2 hours at the hospital Ollie couldn't swallow and kept gagging and spitting," she added. Kuchik said the family now owns a wooden barbecue grill cleaner.

The good news? There are ways you can prevent this from happening.

Dr. Mott Blair, a Wallace, North Carolina-based family physician, uses a brush himself when grilling, but has been more cautious as he's read about these incidents. That makes even more sense when you think about what he has seen in his practice – like a piece of bone stuck in the back of someone's throat. He says you have to be cognizant of the problem because it could indeed happen.

"You don't think about it, you won't prevent it, right?" he says.

With all this in mind, here's what Blair says you should do to keep your grill safely in check:

Use alternative cleaners. Blair suggests using a cloth, and he read that you can even clean the grill with an onion.

Know what you're buying. Just like when you're buying anything else, Blair says you should examine your grilling apparatus often and ensure it's in good servicing condition.

Don't forget about the other safety hazards. Make sure you're thoroughly cooking your meat. Blair says he likely sees people in his practice get sick by coming into contact with raw, contaminated food more so than foreign material ingestion. He also recommends people clean their instruments frequently when they're turning meat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends separating food you plan on grilling (i.e. meat, poultry and seafood) from other foods when you're grocery shopping, chilling meat until you're ready to grill and, of course, inspecting the grill before you use it if you're using a wire bristle brush.

To combat the wire bristle issue specifically, that CDC report from 2012 recommends everyone from health care professionals to manufacturers of wire grill-cleaning brushes to retailers to the public be aware of the issue.

RELATED: The 5 grilling mistakes you keep making

The 5 grilling mistakes you keep making
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The 5 grilling mistakes you keep making


Common Mistake: Not letting the meat "rest." It might be tempting to cut into that juicy, lean beef right when it is hot off the grill. But doing so will actually cool the steak down quicker and release all those good juices, leaving you with a tougher, drier steak. Instead, wrap the steak in aluminum foil and let it rest for about 10 minutes or so before slicing.

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Common Mistake: Choosing the wrong type of fish. Delicate, flaky fish are a challenge to grill because they will often fall apart or flake through the grates of the grill. Instead, choose a steak-like or firmer fish, such as tuna, marlin, or even mahi-mahi to make seafood grilling a breeze. Or try skewering shellfish like shrimp or scallops for a quick-cooking option.

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Common Mistake: Not using a meat thermometer. Overcooking is one of the most common causes of dried-out chicken, but of course you don't want to run the risk of undercooking chicken either. A meat thermometer with grilled chicken is the best solution. The USDA recommends that chicken breasts should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

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Common Mistake: Using too much oil. Of course you need to use some oil when grilling veggies since this healthy fat helps the seasonings to adhere to the veggies and also prevents them from sticking to the grill. But you don't need as much as you might think. We recommend about 1 tablespoon of oil per pound of veggies. Use more than this and you may be left with soggy veggies. Another tip: Cut veggies into evenly-sized pieces and either skewer them or cook them in a grill pan (looks like a skillet with small holes) to ensure they're grilled evenly without the risk of them falling through the grates.

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Common Mistake: Not forming the patties properly. Whether you are making beef burgers, turkey burgers, or homemade veggie burgers, you probably already know that forming round, proportional patties is a must. But after flattening them, try putting a thumbprint in the center of each patty. This simple trick will keep the patties flat as they cook by preventing them from balling up and shrinking.

Photo credit: Getty


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