With summer comes outdoor grilling, but using a wire barbecue brush to clean a grill can put people at increased risk of accidental ingestion of bristles. A case involving a Connecticut woman highlights this danger. Emergency laparoscopic surgery was performed on the woman to remove a single wire barbecue brush bristle from her digestive tract after the stray bristle fell off the metal grill cleaning brush and into a hamburger that she consumed. After feeling a sharp and unusual pain in her stomach, she was rushed to the hospital and a CT scan revealed the wire. Another patient in the same hospital was not as fortunate, as he had a grill brush wire stuck in his digestive system for several weeks and had a punctured intestine and pulmonary embolism as a result.

While about 80,000 people present to emergency departments each year after accidentally ingesting foreign objects, no official data has been collected on ingestion of grill cleaning brush bristles. Broad awareness of the risk will help emergency department physicians, internists, and radiologists to quickly and appropriately diagnose this injury. Clinical history is critical so that radiologic evaluation can be tailored to pinpoint the location of the wire (and potential complications) for the appropriate intervention. Only one study has been published on the subject and counts six cases occurring in one hospital over an 18-month period, but many believe that it is more common than those numbers indicate.

Questions remain regarding whether different brands or designs of grill-cleaning brushes, different grill types (eg, uncoated cast iron versus porcelain-coated cast iron), different types of food (eg, whole cuts of meat versus patties), or different health conditions (eg, dentures or other oral conditions) make a difference in the risk for ingestion of wire bristles.To prevent ingestion in the first place, it is advised that grills be cleaned with aluminum foil or nylon brushes, then wiped down with a cloth and carefully inspected prior to use.

Physician awareness of this potential injury is essential to facilitate timely diagnosis and treatment. Awareness of this potential injury by the general population, manufacturers, and retailers can reduce exposures and decrease the likelihood of occurrence.

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