Wire brushes are commonly used to clean grills, ovens, and other commonly-used surfaces. However, the danger of these scrubbing instruments may far outweigh their benefit.
Between July 2009 and June 2012, there were 12 patients injured after ingesting wire bristles—in a single hospital system, no less. The injuries ranged from the puncture of the neck’s soft tissue (causing severe pain when swallowing) to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract, which required emergency surgery.
Ingestion of foreign objects sent 80,000 Americans to the hospital in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ingesting foreign objects is typically thought of as a children’s medical issue. However, wire brushes represent a different kind of threat; instead of a child ingesting it due to curiosity, wire brushes are typically ingested by accident after using them to clean. According to the CDC’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” the six patients studied between March 2011 and June 2012 were between 31 and 64 years old.
All six reported outdoor food grilling and using commercially-available wire brushes to clean their grills. After scrubbing a grill, oven, or other type of cooking equipment, small pieces of wire may break off. These small pieces of wire can end up attaching themselves to food, representing a serious risk of injury if ingested.
“Action to prevent these injuries include increasing awareness among consumers, manufacturers, retailers, and medical professionals to promote prevention, timely diagnosis, and appropriate treatment,” stated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a statement. “Additionally, the Consumer Product Safety Commission currently is reviewing available grill-cleaning brush-related injury data to determine if an identifiable pattern of product defect could pose an unreasonable risk for injury or death, necessitating a consumer warning, product recall, or other regulatory action.”
Until the Consumer Product Safety Commission makes a determination about the safety of wire brushes for grill and oven cleaning, consumers and doctors must work to minimize the risk of these injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend taking the following action:
- Consumers: If possible, refrain from using wire brushes to clean grills and ovens. If you must use a wire brush to clean a cooking surface, check the surface very carefully for loose wires before putting raw food on it. It is unclear at this point whether or not different brands or designs of grill brushes are safer alternatives, and it is also unclear if different types of food (e.g. burger patties vs. steaks) pick up loose wires at a different rate.
- Medical professionals: Read up on the dangers of ingesting wires from wire brushes, and make sure your colleagues are also aware. A timely diagnosis is critical to minimizing the damage from an ingested loose wire, which makes awareness among doctors extremely important. The wire bristles are very small and can be difficult to see on plain radiographs and CT scans. If necessary, the CDC recommends conducting a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis without oral contrast, which can obscure the wire. Get as detailed of a clinical history as possible, which will help identify the exact location of the brush.