Emergency rooms are always full in the summertime, often due to outdoor accidents. But sometimes people wind up with an IV stuck in their arm because of things they never dreamed of happening – like perforating an organ while eating a cheeseburger. A new study conducted at the University of Missouri School of Medicine identified more than 1,600 injuries from wire-bristle grill brushes reported in ERs since 2002.
You’ve probably seen the brushes, and maybe even own one. I own one…or I did, until I read this study. You can be scrubbing all that grease and black burnt-on stuff off the grill and accidentally leave one of the little bristles behind. If you’ve ever been poked in the finger by one of the bristles, you know how much it hurts. You wouldn’t want to eat one.
David Chang, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology at the MU School of Medicine, says that most doctors probably don’t even think about this possibility when someone comes into the ER in pain, so this study is important. He explained in a press release:
“If doctors are unaware that this problem exists, they may not order the appropriate tests or capture the correct patient history to reach the right diagnosis.”
These Wire Bristles can Cause Some Damage
For the study, researchers looked at consumer injury databases and found nearly 1,700 injuries related to wire grill brushes dating back to 2002. The most common injuries were to the oral cavities, throats, and tonsils.
But it can get much, much worse.
“If the bristle passes through those regions without lodging itself, it could get stuck further downstream in places like the esophagus, stomach, or the intestine. The biggest worry is that it will lodge into those areas and get stuck in the wall of the intestine. The bristles could migrate out of the intestine and cause further internal damage.” 
That’s what happened in 2012 to Cheryl Harrison, a then-52-year-old Connecticut woman who had to undergo emergency surgery after accidentally swallowing a bristle while chowing down on a burger. Two days after her fateful meal, she began experiencing severe stomach pain. She told WFSB-TV:
“It was just a pain that I have never felt before. I felt my stomach was bloated… extremely tender to the touch. You could not even push on anything – just hurt my stomach.”
A scan of her stomach revealed a thin, inch-long piece of wire, and she was rushed into emergency surgery.
“Obviously, if it was in my mouth and I bit it, I wouldn’t have swallowed it. It must have been positioned in that burger just perfect, and I ingested it and swallowed it.”
The surgeon who treated her, Dr. Aziz Benbrahim, said it was not the first time he had removed a similar object from a patient. 
A Few Safety Recommendations
Chang has a few recommendations to prevent similar burger-stabbing incidents from occurring:
- Use caution when cleaning grills with wire bristle brushes, examining brushes before each use and discarding if bristles are loose.
- Inspect your grill’s cooking grates before cooking, or use alternative cleaning methods such as nylon bristle brushes or balls of tin foil.
- Inspect grilled food carefully after cooking to make sure bristles are not stuck to the food.
“If cautionary measures fail and individuals do experience problems with swallowing or pain after eating something that has been barbecued or grilled, they should seek advice from a physician or an emergency department and let the physician know that they were just at a barbecue event or they just grilled food.”
 Vice Munchies
 ABC 13 Houston
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.