The People's Perspective on Medicine

Watch Out for Wire Bristles from Cleaning the Grill

Cleaning the backyard grill with a wire brush may leave wire bristles that can lodge in the food; many injuries have resulted.
Bbq meat grilled

While preparing your holiday cookout, think about this: Beware wire bristles that may linger on the grill next time you bite into a burger.

Cleaning Off Your Grill:

With grilling season underway, many people are cleaning off their backyard barbecue grills. Wire brushes are a popular tool for this dirty chore.

Be Wary of Wire Bristles:

But a new study published in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery shows that small wire bristles left behind after cleaning the grill can get caught in the meat and cause injuries.

Emergency departments have treated nearly 1,700 patients with damage to their mouths, throats and tonsils. The injuries ranged from cuts and punctures to infections. Some were severe.

How to Get Your Grill Clean:

The lead researcher suggests that fragments of wire can pose a serious hazard. To avoid it, he suggests using a nylon-bristle brush or even a balled-up piece of aluminum foil for grill cleaning. Another option would be to use a strong sponge and plenty of detergent, water and elbow grease.

Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, April, 2016 

The otolaryngologists are not the only ones concerned about stray wire bristles. A report in The American Surgeon (May 2016) documented patients whose intestines were damaged by grill brush bristles. The authors recommend replacing grill brushes at least every two years. Better yet, find another way to clean the grill.

You may be interested in our radio show from a few years ago in which we first discussed the risks of injury from wire bristles, as well as ways to reduce possible carcinogens in meat cooked on the grill.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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After brushing the grill,
1) Step back from the grill
2) Take a deep breath
3) Step up to the grill
4) Blow all those pesky wires off the grill surface and down onto the briquets

Problem solved.

Is that what the crunch is when I am eating a grilled steak? And I thought it was the seared crust of the meat.:):)

After using the wire brush I always get a couple of paper towels, wet them and clean the grill surface several times until it is clean each wipe using a new piece of paper towel. My brush uses heavier duty wires so this also helps in not having tiny specs of metal debris left after brushing.

The easiest way to clean a grill, is, after it has cooled, put a paper towel on it, wetted with water & dish soap. Keep it damp for several hours, and then wipe off the mess. Saves time & elbow grease! why bother with a wire brush?

What I worry about is not eating at home and cleaning our bbq with a wire brush and checking the grill before using, but when we are invited to a friend’s or fund-raising bbq – where wire brushes are used and we may get one in our “burger.” Same with many foods – there is such a focus on safe handling of food, but how do we know when eating at a friends or restaurant, for instance, that they have done so: can we ask our hostess if she washed the lettuce???

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