Beware the Barbecue Grill Brush, CDC Says

Beware, backyard grillers: undercooked meat isn’t the only health hazard to worry about. Wire bristles from grill brushes can become dislodged and end up in the food you eat, potentially causing a number of problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report this week describing a spate of six cases at Rhode Island Hospital in which people were treated for ingesting wire bristles.

The six patients, ranging in age from 31 to 64, were seen between May 2011 to June 2012. They said they’d eaten food cooked outdoors on a grill, and that wire grill brushes had been used.

In three cases, bristles were found in the patients’ necks. In another, the gastrointestinal tract was perforated, and the patient had to have surgery.

The same hospital saw another six cases of bristle swallowing from 2009 to 2010. A paper in the American Journal of Roentgenology published in April chronicles the cases and cautions consumers and physicians to be aware of the brushes’ possible danger.

In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report the CDC said that barbecue grills should be inspected before cooking to make sure they’re free of dislodged bristles that could become embedded in food. The agency also reported that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is looking at data on brush-related injuries to see if product defects could be a factor.

So where does this news fall on the list of things you need to be worried about? Dr. David Grand, lead author of the published study, told ABC News that the number of bristle-related injuries are fairly small compared with the amount of people who barbecue and use wire brushes. But, he added, ingesting bristles may occur more frequently than doctors think.

"What was most striking about this collection is that we saw so many cases at just one hospital," he said. "I started getting calls from around the country from doctors who had seen similar injuries in their patients."

ABC News also spoke to Dr. Joel Levine, a professor of gastroenterology at the University of Connecticut, who agreed that the chance of swallowing a wire bristle is pretty low.

"Actually, the risks from what you are cooking on the grill likely outweigh the brush bristles," Levine said. "High amounts of grilled meats have been long known as a cancer risk."

Will you be more cautious about grilling this summer? Tell us about it in the comments.

Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal, and has gotten in a boxing ring. Email Jeannine