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BBQ Warning

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SASH

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BBQ brushes can be a health hazard

Sheryl Ubelacker
Canadian Press

TORONTO -- When it comes to the paraphernalia of barbecuing, they're as ubiquitous as charcoal briquettes, propane tanks and burger flippers. But those wire brushes used to clean the grill can be potentially deadly -- and in the most insidious way.

In the last year, doctors at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children have had to remove broken-off wire bristles from the throats of three patients, and in one case the barb had migrated through the child's neck and could have perforated a major blood vessel.

The bristles had been left behind on the grill after the brushes were used to scrub off that greasy gunk left behind by flaming steaks, burgers and other fare -- then got stuck on food that was subsequently cooked.

When the children ate the food, the metal bristles became lodged in the esophagus and could have done serious damage, said Dr. Paolo Campisi, an ear, nose and throat specialist at the hospital, who is calling for an industry-wide review of safety standards associated with cleaning barbecue grills and other cooking surfaces.

"When you see a cluster of things, you certainly worry about that and we just don't want to see other children injured with the same problem," Campisi told The Canadian Press.

The most serious case by far was that of 15-year-old Jamie Harris, who had a wire bristle lodge in his esophagus during a meal at his Toronto home last fall -- except that neither he nor his parents realized that's what had occurred.

"We were eating steak and I was really hungry, so I took like a huge chunk of it and swallowed it," said the teen. "And I felt sort of a cutting feeling at the back of my throat and I couldn't swallow any food afterwards.

"I thought it was just a scratch from the steak because it had a burnt piece on the end, so I thought it was just a burnt piece that cut my throat."

When both he and his mom, Wendy Lockyer, awoke the next morning with fever and fatigue, they thought they had come down with a bug. That's what their doctor thought, too. After taking throat swabs to test for strep and mononucleosis, the physician sent them home.

"What really triggered our concerns is when I got better and he did not," said Lockyer.

Ten days later -- still feverish, too tired to go to school and still unable to eat because his neck was so swollen -- Jamie was taken to a walk-in clinic. An X-ray showed a three-centimetre-long object lodged in the teen's neck, and he was told to get to Sick Kids without delay.

"When I looked at the X-ray, I knew right away what it was, because we'd seen it already a couple of times that year," said Campisi.

An attempt to extricate the needle-like bristle using a special scope was unsuccessful, he said. "When I looked down, I couldn't find the needle, but what I did find was an abscess on the right wall of the esophagus.

"So once I saw that, I knew we were in trouble."

A CT scan showed the chunk of metal had perforated the esophagus and migrated into the side of the neck just above the shoulder, where it floated in a capsule of pus between the carotid artery and the jugular vein.

"Certainly the location didn't make any of us happy," Campisi said.

The next day, he and another surgeon operated again, ultimately opening up Jamie's neck from the outside to retrieve the bristle.

"He very quickly turned the corner and got better."

While Lockyer was relieved that her son would be OK, she said "the implications were very scary."

"I'm not entirely sure at what point you're supposed to know that your barbecue bristles will start to fall off," said Lockyer, admitting she's used the brushes for years.

"Just like everybody else. You go to the hardware and buy a barbecue brush. We haven't used one since. We use a scraper and then wipe it off.

"We obviously told everyone we knew. And I can assure you, all kinds of barbecue brushes were going in the garbage."

John Vukanovich, president of the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association of Canada, said he had never heard of barbecue brush bristles breaking off and being ingested, but agreed it's cause for concern.

"As an association and an industry, we were unaware of this health concern," Vukanovich said Tuesday. "We would be very interested in promoting a public awareness safety campaign to prevent things like this from happening in the future."

Donna Myers, a spokeswoman for the HPBA in the United States, said she spoke to a number of members who manufacture barbecue grills "and they were, quite truthfully, astonished. They said they'd never heard of any such thing."

It's difficult to comprehend how a tiny bristle -- most are made of brass -- could stick to a grill, she said. "I would think that they'd fall right through."

And because many of the brushes are manufactured overseas and sold directly to retailers, it would be difficult to keep tabs on their quality, added Myers.

She suggested that consumers wash their grills under running water after scrubbing them with a brush.

"I'm certainly sorry to hear anybody got injured, especially kids. That's a really tough thing to have happen. So we would certainly want to do anything that we can. We will certainly try to make people aware of it."

Campisi, who will soon publish an article on Jamie's case in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, said a number of other cases have been cited in medical literature going back to the early 1950s.

"Jamie's a clear case that this is a dangerous tool, could be a dangerous tool," he said. "This was a potentially life-threatening injury.

"It doesn't occur every day, but the potential complications of such an ingestion are very serious, and if we can avoid another child going through the same experience, then we should warn the public."

As for Jamie -- despite all his friends thinking his 10-centimetre-long neck scar is "awesome" -- he is unequivocal on his opinion of barbecue brushes.

"I hate them," said the Grade 10 student, who still can't bring himself to eat steak.

"I think they should get rid of them for sure."
 

Mike

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Lay the grill on the ground and let the dogs lick it clean. :wink:

No need for wire brushes.
 

Mike

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Good way to clean dishes, pots and pans too, before loading the dishwasher. Dogs are wonderful around the house.
 

alabama

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why do you put then in the dishwasher? Do your dogs not d a good job? Mine get them so clean that we just stack them up to use again.
 

Mike

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Alabama said:
why do you put then in the dishwasher? Do your dogs not d a good job? Mine get them so clean that we just stack them up to use again.

Little dogs have "soft" tongues, thus the inability to properly clean pots and pans..

Plus the little dogs tongue can't get all the way to the bottom of a tall glass.
 

Murgen

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Use paper plates etc. That's what I do, but I'm a bachelor, I guess if I was married, I'd have to move up to the plastic "china"
 

ranchwife

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Murgen said:
Use paper plates etc. That's what I do, but I'm a bachelor, I guess if I was married, I'd have to move up to the plastic "china"

been known to use the plastic "china" a time or two myself....only to impress company!!! :wink:
 

ranchwife

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Mike said:
Lay the grill on the ground and let the dogs lick it clean. :wink:

No need for wire brushes.

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
sounds like something the hubby would have done back in his "wilder/bachelor" years....actually, come to think of it, I am pretty sure it IS something he did!! :wink: :shock: :shock:
 

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