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Brush Up On Grill Safety

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As Memorial Day approaches and the weather warms up, we’re all gearing up to spend more time outdoors these days and dusting off the grills to get ready for another summer.

We all know the traditional safety stuff when it comes to grilling, right? Check the gas lines and valves, make sure the grill is away from the house and combustible materials, don’t leave a hot grill unattended with kids around, cook your food to 165°, etc. This summer, add one more safety check to your list – your grill brush.

If you’ve ever owned a grill, chances are pretty good you also bought a wire brush, like the one pictured here, to clean the grates. Fire up the grill, get it nice and hot, and then scrape the grates clean with the brush. It’s a routine we’ve all done countless times, hopefully without incident. But for hundreds of Americans every summer, that last part – without incident – isn’t the case. What’s happening with these brushes is that wire particles are coming loose and ending up in the food being grilled. And when that food is eaten, guess where the wire bristle parts go? Right along with your food.

Swallowing a piece of wire is about as pleasant as it sounds. Imagine this 1 cm long metal shard (shown at right) being lodged in your throat, like a woman in New York experienced and required emergency surgery to remove. And she’s one of the lucky ones as it lodged in her throat and not further down her digestive tract to more ….. delicate places …… where others have had to have bristles extracted. The horror stories are real and numerous. Like this man who required an emergency bowel resection; this woman who had a bristle lodged in her throat for over five months; or this man who spent eight days in the hospital after a wire bristle lodged in his intestine and had to be surgically removed.

And while you’d think this would be a relatively uncommon occurrence, studies done by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the University of Missouri School of Medicine found that between 2002 and 2014, there were nearly 1,700 emergency room visits caused by people swallowing bits of grill brush wire. And that’s just US incidents where people went to an ER and they figured out that’s what it was; it doesn’t take into account the countless other cases where people didn’t realize that’s what it was, or didn’t seek medical treatment from an emergency room. Doctors and safety watchdog groups are recommending that people inspect their food carefully after grilling, but do you really want to spend your weekend BBQ hunched over a burger with a magnifying glass looking for metal shards? Just skip the wire brush altogether.

That doesn’t mean foregoing cleaning and cooking on dirty grates; here are three quick and easy ways to have a clean grill without the wire brush hazards:

  • Use a ceramic or nylon bristled brush (many nicer grills actually require these because metal bristles can damage ceramic-coated grill grates).
  • Clean the grill when it’s cold. The heat from a hot grill can melt plastic, causing brush bristles to fall out. Most ceramic and nylon brushes can only be used on a cold grill.
  • In a pinch, use wadded up aluminum foil to create a makeshift scrubber and use long-handled grill tongs to scrub the grates with the foil.

Your backyard barbecues don’t need to be interrupted by a trip to the ER, so when you’re prepping your grill for the summer, ditch the wire brush and grill with confidence, knowing that the only thing your guests will be eating is char-grilled deliciousness.