Date Published: 3 July 2018
BBQ Warning about wire bristle brushes applies to all foods, even vegan patties
Food safety advice rotates with the season. Health organizations typically remind the public about recommendations and best practice for the preparation and cooking of poultry before Thanksgiving (USA) and Christmas (worldwide), and about the possible dangers of undercooked meats from barbecues (BBQs), including steps to safe (meat) BBQs during the summer months.
Barbecue season has arrived across the northern hemisphere with both Europeans ans North Americans enjoying eating outdoors with family and friends. When planning to cook outside food poisonising from undercooked meats is not the only danger to be aware of. Even vegetarian and vegan BBQ cooks need to be aware of the risks of using grills that have been cleaning using wire-bristle grill brushes. While cleaning cooking equipment makes sense for hygiene reasons as well - as out of concern for whatever the grill might previously have been used to cook, doing so with wire-bristle grill brushes can result in a bad experience for one or more of your diners.
The reason is that the wires that form wire-brushes have been known to detatch from brushes and become attached to cooking equipment and in some cases embedded in food. The disgusting realisation that one has been unintentionally 'eating' cleaning equipment is nothing compared with the injuries can can result from ingesting even one piece of metal wire. As mentioned below, this can result in emergency surgery.
The use of wire brushes to clean outdoor cooking equipment such as BBQs is the subject of a recent warning from the American Medical Association (AMA)1. In anticipation of people across the USA preparing their BBQs for entertaining family and friends on the 4th of July, the AMA urged caution if using a wire-bristle grill brush on cooking equipment.
" As the Fourth of July approaches and many of us will be cooking meals for friends and family on our grills, we want to be sure that anyone who cleans their grill with a wire-bristle brush is aware of the possibility that the bristles can break off and stick to the food being cooked. When ingested, wire bristles have been known to cause injury and in some cases lead to a surgical emergency. We urge everyone to take simple precautions to avoid injury and prevent a trip to the emergency department, including wiping the grill down after using it and inspecting it for wire bristles before cooking food," said AMA President Barbara L. McAneny, M.D.
The seriousness of this warning is underlined by a new policy adopted by the AMA at its Annual Meeting last month. In order to help to avoid further injuries due to bristles from wire-bristle grill brushes, the AMA called on the U.S. federal government to require warning labels to be attached to wire-bristle grill brushes informing consumers about the dangerous possibility of wire bristles breaking off and being accidentally ingested.
When warnings are issued, statistics are often cited. In this case the AMA referred to1 a count totalling more than 1,600 emergency department visits due to wire-bristle brush injuries between 2002 and 2014, which amounts to approx. 130 such distressing incidents per year2. That 2016 research study into wire-bristle grill brush injuries in the USA found that most of these injuries involved the mouth, throat, and tonsils, with some requiring surgery. The study concluded that:
" Injury from wire-bristle grill brush is uncommon but prevalent during certain seasons. Otolaryngologists play an important in the diagnosis and treatment of these injuries. Awareness among consumers and product manufacturers is necessary to promote safety."
Research paper by T.P.Baugh et.al.2
Consumers can join the effort to raise awareness about this seasonal risk by sharing this and other articles about the dangers of cleaning cooking equipment such as BBQs using wire bristle brushes. Remember: Regardless of the type of food you're eating, you don't want metal bristles in it. Now let's prepare some yummy skewers and vegan patties ('vegan burgers' in the UK) for a delicious vegan BBQ .. happy outdoor cooking!