Doctors Issue Warning About Cleaning Grills with Wire Brushes

Love eating burgers off the grill? You’ll want to read this.

Connecticut resident Cheryl Harrison was rushed to the emergency room with extreme stomach pain two days after eating a grilled burger. At the hospital, doctors discovered that she had a thin, inch-long piece of metal from a grill brush in her intestine, which they had to remove via emergency surgery.

“Obviously, if it was in my mouth and I bit it, I wouldn’t have swallowed it,” Harrison told Connecticut’s News 8. “It must have been positioned in that burger just perfect, and I ingested it and swallowed it.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

While it sounds bizarre, accidentally eating a brush bristle can and does happen, says internal medicine physician Lawrence Dell, MD, co-owner of Lakes Urgent Care in Michigan. “I do see the ingestion of foreign materials — bristles, coins, needles, pins, things like that,” he tells Yahoo Health. “Sometimes it’s inadvertent because the person did not feel, see, or touch the foreign item before swallowing it.”

Unfortunately, unintentionally swallowing a metal brush bristle can be a “really big problem,” says Russ Kino, MD, medical director of The Weingart Foundation Emergency Department at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

Here’s why: It can scratch your esophagus on its way down or become lodged in your throat, stomach, or any part of your intestinal area. Kino tells Yahoo Health that, while unusual, it could even puncture the wall of your stomach or intestine, which would require surgery.

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However, most of the time a foreign object can be retrieved with a scope while a patient is under anesthesia, says Dell. If it’s not pointy, you may be able to pass it under observation, but your doctor would be the best judge of that.

So, how would you know if you swallowed a brush bristle? Kino says it’s possible you wouldn’t notice it at all, unless it became lodged in your body. Then, you’d probably experience severe abdominal pain.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to minimize the odds this will happen to you. If you’re planning to cook on your grill, the Hearth, Patio, & Barbecue Association recommends rinsing your grill thoroughly after you scrub it with a wire brush. That should help rinse away any foreign objects.

And, while it sounds obvious, Dell stresses that it’s really important to thoroughly chew your food before swallowing. “Generally, you want to be cautious when you’re ingesting food,” he says. “Take your time when you’re chewing. If you feel something unusual when you’re chewing, immediately get it out.”

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If you suspect you swallowed something you shouldn’t have, Kino says you should head to the ER immediately.

While Kino stresses that this doesn’t happen often, he says people should just be aware that it’s possible to wind up with a brush bristle in your burger: “Stuff like this happens, especially in food like a burger where you’re not expected a foreign body.”

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