BBQ grill brush bristles can break off, end up in food and be swallowed


With our beautiful South Florida weather, a lot of people grill outdoors. But before you take that next bite of barbecue, it’s time to brush up on a danger you may not be aware of, one that injures hundreds of people each year. The Nightteam’s Karen Hensel investigates.

A ball of fire from this backyard grill sent a Broward man jumping into his pool, and then to the hospital with serious burns.

The risk of fires when grilling is well known. But there is another cookout concern, and it doesn’t involve the actual cooking.

The danger is in these wire brushes used to clean the grates. Tiny bristles can break off the brushes, end up in food and be accidentally swallowed.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 1,800 people ended up in emergency rooms between 2018 and 2020 from injuries involving grill brush bristles.

Tammy Johnson: “They did an X-ray and said I had a foreign body in there.”

Tammy Johnson was eating a piece of barbecue chicken when she swallowed a tiny bristle. It punctured her intestine and required emergency surgery. The Washington State woman almost died.

Tammy Johnson: “It’s been very scary.”

Linda Pelham took just one bite of hotdog when a bristle ended up being stuck in her throat.

Linda Pelham: “I woke up and I could not swallow or breathe. I was just petrified.”

The bristle remained in her throat not for days or weeks, but…

Linda Pelham: “Six months, six months. I had seen three different doctors at that time when the third one told me I would just have to live with it.”

A scan shows the bristle lodged in Linda’s throat, at one point very close to a major artery.

Dr. Mark Prince/Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan: “I’ve not seen anything quite like that before. I think it is fairly unusual.”

Thankfully, Dr. Mark Prince and his team were able to successfully remove the almost one inch bristle.

Dr. Mark Prince: “This sort of problem is really very avoidable by just changing the type of device that people are using to clean their barbeque.”

Enter Scott Mobley.

Scott Mobley/Grill Rescue: “I’ve been a firefighter nine years.”

The Broward firefighter knows about saving lives. It’s his job.

As one of the cooks at the firehouse, he also saw the need for a different kind of rescue.

Scott Mobley/Grill Rescue: “Using this metal wire brush continuously–use and abuse–the wire bristles actually break off into your grates.”

So Scott and his business partner Anthony Tranchida came up with Grill Rescue. It uses steam to clean the grates.

They didn’t have to go far to find inspiration for the heat resistant sponge. The cloth is made of the same material as Scott’s firefighter gear.

Scott Mobley/Grill Rescue: “Why not use the strongest material possible that protects us in the line of duty as a grill brush? These brushes are on the expensive side, but it’s not worth the price of swallowing one of these bristles.”

Besides selling the brushes, which cost around $50, Scott and Anthony also want to educate people about the potential danger.

Anthony Tranchida/Grill Rescue: “Beware of what you are doing to yourself and your family by using these cheaper metal bristle brushes.”

The men have donated thousands of their brushes to fire stations across the country.

As for Linda Pelham, she never thought lightning would strike twice. But it did, last month.

Linda Pelham: “I’d ordered a grilled chicken breast. I think if they had lathered the barbeque sauce on the breast, I never would have seen that bristle on the chicken.”

This time, she didn’t bite.

Linda Pelham: “I just could not imagine swallowing another wire in my lifetime.”

Linda says when her husband ran a big magnet over their grill, it picked up about 40 pieces of bristles from the grate. If you’re concerned, there are other grill cleaning alternatives. Everything from other bristle-free brushes to rubbing half an onion over the heated grates. Great ideas to help keep you safe.


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