Wire grill brushes many backyard cooks use to clean their grills may look innocent enough, but there is a lurking danger associated with them that could become deadly for some people.
According to a study published in 2016 in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, approximately 1,700 people in the U.S were rushed to emergency rooms between 2002 and 2014 after inadvertently swallowing a bit of stray grill brush wire that clung to the grill during cleaning and ended up in their food.
This figure, however, is believed to be significantly larger because it does not count patients who seek treatment at urgent care facilities, doctor’s offices, and other medical facilities, according to C.W. David Chang, M.D., a senior study author and associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine.
The stray bristles can be so small that they can go unnoticed in food. Injuries to the mouth and throat are the most common complaints associated with wire grill brushes. But it’s the pieces of wire that make it further down that pose bigger problems. If they reach the intestines, they could become life-threatening.
A quarter of patients who ingested pieces of wire grill brush were admitted to the hospital. Surgery to remove the bristles can be difficult and complications can lead to infection.
The problem of wire grill brushes losing their bristles and injuring people who unknowingly ingest them has become so widespread that many health care professionals are hoping the brushes will be pulled from the market.
Fortunately, there are safe and effective ways to clean a dirty grill without a conventional wire grill brush.
You can scrub a grill with a ball of aluminum foil, pumice stone, heavy-duty nylon scrubber, or other non-wire scrubbers. If using a ball of aluminum foil, it will help to heat the grill first, but make sure that the grill isn’t hot enough to burn you.
Spraying grills with cleaners helps loosen up the debris. Spray white vinegar onto a warm grill. Let it soak for a few minutes, spray again, and then scrub with baking soda.
Another easy and highly effective way to clean a dirty grill is to cover the grill rack with a sheet of aluminum foil, shiny side down, fire the grill up on high heat, and close the lid. Let it heat for up to 10 minutes. This will char food residue and you won’t need to scrub the surface of the grill much, if at all. Doing this after you cook will ensure your grill is clean the next time you plan to cook out.
Spraying the grill with a non-stick cooking spray will also make food easy to remove and help keep your grill surface cleaner. Never spray a grill that it already lit as this could ignite the spray and cause potentially serious burn injuries.