Important warning for grillers

July 2, 2012 8:31:36 PM PDT
This is a warning for anyone who barbecues, which this week, will be a significant number of people.

Cleaning your grill could unintentionally cause some major health issues, as one Lehigh County couple found out.

For Brian Shablin and his wife Sandra of Foglesville, it started like any typical summer evening.

They decided to grill out on the barbecue, but how they ended up at the emergency room is still a shock to Sandra.

"Because how could something so minor that we take for granted everyday be so major and cause such pain," Sandra said.

Sandra says the pain started immediately after swallowing a piece of steak.

"It was like a stabbing pain in my throat," Sandra said.

"We were talking about something with my daughter and she all of a sudden said, 'Oh, I think I just swallowed something,'" Brian said.

Sandra says the pain persisted so they went to Lehigh Valley Hospital.

Dr. Alex Rosenau says a small white dot on her CT scan showed a tiny piece of metal stuck in her tonsil. It was just about the size of an eyelash and it appeared to have come from a brush bristle left on the grill and seared into the steak.

She had surgery to remove it from her tonsil and is now fine, but if it was left inside her body, it could've caused serious problems.

"It can cause a puncture, it can cause bleeding, abscess, infection," Dr. Rosenau said.

And this is not the first time a bristle from a grill brush has hurt someone.

A study at Rhode Island Hospital shows 6 similar incidents over an 18-month time frame.

In two patients, the wire bristle perforated the small intestine.

In a third, it punched through the stomach and liver causing an abscess.

New York Senator Charles Schumer has called for an investigation of the safety of grill brushes.

Consumer Reports also has some advice.

"It's still okay to use a grill brush but you want to inspect it regularly especially if it has been around a few years; if the bristles are loose or some of them have already broken off, it's definitely time for a new grill brush," Daniel DiClerico of Consumer Reports said.

And if you do buy a new one, you do get what you pay for so you probably don't want to buy one at a dollar store.

The Weber brand does a pull test on their bristles to make sure they don't fall out. Consumer Reports also says stainless steel is better than brass.

Three-sided brushes, where the bristles are woven around the frame, are said to hold up better over time.

The Shablins also recommend if you do use a brush, use a cotton cloth after to make sure nothing is left behind.

Obviously, you need to do this when the grill is cool.