Before you fire up your grill, make sure you’re not serving up a visit to the emergency room along with your burgers and hot dogs. If you use a wire-bristle brush to clean your grill between cookouts, check that no bristles have fallen off the brush during your scrubbing and become stuck to the grates.
A stray wire bristle can adhere to the food being cooked and be accidentally ingested. Though occurrences are rare, it pays to be aware of the damage one bristle can do if swallowed—like injuring the mouth or throat or puncturing the upper gastrointestinal tract.
Severe pain when swallowing and severe stomach pain are the most common telltale signs that you might have swallowed a bristle. A new study from the University of Missouri School of Medicine published in 2016 found that an estimated 1,698 injuries—mostly in the throat area—were treated in emergency departments from 2002 to 2014.
The researchers suggest cooks consider the following advice to avoid serious injury:
• Inspect the brush for loose bristles before cleaning.
• Check cooking grates for stray bristles before grilling.
• Trade the wire brush for a nylon grill brush. A wire-mesh brush, a pumice stone, and aluminum foil crumbled into a ball are also good alternatives.
• To loosen debris, cover your grill grates tightly with one or two sheets of aluminum foil. Close the grill’s cover and turn the heat up high for 25 minutes. Once the grates are cool, you should be able to wipe debris away easily with a soft cloth. Or, use a liquid grill cleaner to loosen debris before brushing.