Fourth of July grilling tip: Don't swallow the wire brush. (Seriously.)

Between March 2011 and June 2012, six patients were treated at a single emergency department in Providence, R.I., after accidently ingesting grill brush wires. (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)

By Jonathan Purtle

"Persons who grill should be aware of the risk for ingestion of wire bristles from grill-cleaning brushes," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Tuesday, adding barbecuing to that other Fourth of July hazard known as firecrackers.

It sounds trivial, but some of the facts in the Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report are startling enough to suggest a bit of caution before throwing burgers on the grill.

Between March 2011 and June 2012, six patients were treated at a single emergency department in Providence, R.I., after accidently ingesting grill brush wires. All the patients reported severe throat and/or abdominal pain after eating food cooked on grills. Two required emergency abdominal surgery to retrieve the wire and repair intestinal damage. These cases apparently were not unusual. An article published in the American Journal of Roentgenology describes another six cases of grill brush wire ingestion at the same hospital between July 2009 and November 2010.

Since there is no national surveillance system for grill brush-related injuries, one can only speculate about the number of such incidents that occur annually. Be sure, however, that the rogue-grill-brush-ingestion phenomenon is not isolated to Rhode Island.

In 2009, physicians from Jefferson Medical College published an article in The Laryngoscope that described a case of wire grill brush ingestion in Philadelphia. On one mid-August day, the patient ate a meal that was cooked on a freshly brushed grill. He experienced a sharp pain in his mouth while eating that got persistently worse over the next month. The pain spread to his ear and neck — causing him to eventually seek emergency department care. He was treated for a lingual abscess and X-rays revealed a collection of metal objects resembling grill brush bristles, which were implicated as the cause. The injury was nearly fatal.

A similar report, in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery in 2005, described the case of a 10-year-old boy in Toronto. After a meal of barbecued steak, the boy experienced progressively worse throat discomfort and cold-like symptoms. Oral antibiotics failed to relieve the symptoms, the pain became more unbearable, and X-rays and scans were performed — revealing a small metal object between the internal jugular and common carotid artery. The wire was surgically removed and proved to be a 3 cm wire identical to that on the brush that was used to clean the family grill the day the symptoms began.

Injury from wandering grill bits is easily preventable. Check the surfaces of grills for wire bristles or other foreign objects you would rather not ingest before putting on the food. To be extra cautious, consider wiping the grill surface down with a cloth to make sure that any and all loose grill brush wires don’t end up in your grub. And, of course, do this before lighting it up, lest burns join bottle rockets and brushes as yet another hazard of the Fourth of July.

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