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Why Burgers from a Very Clean Grill Can Be Dangerously Crunchy

COLUMBIA, MO – Guests at a cookout might be concerned that the barbecue grill isn’t clean enough. Emergency physicians know, however, that too aggressive cleaning can also create health problems.

Just in time for summer grilling season, a study published in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery examines the incidence of injuries caused by ingesting wire bristles from grill cleaning brushes.

Researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine reviewed the dangers when wire-bristle grill brushes, used for cleaning grill grates, lose bristles during scrubbing. If the bristles adhere to the grill, become stuck to food, and then accidentally are ingested, serious injuries can result.

For the study, researchers reviewed literature and used the Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) and the consumer reported injury database to estimate emergency department visits for wire bristle injuries between 2002 and 2014.

Examination of the NEISS revealed 43 cases, which extrapolated to an estimated 1,698 emergency department (ED) visits nationwide, with an average patient age of 30 years, according to the study.

The most common site of injury was the oropharynx, with 53.4%in the NEISS database, and 30.5% in the literature review. In the consumer-reported database, however, injury was most commonly to the oral cavity, 37.5%, the researchers report.

Most, nearly 70%, of the patients documented in the NEISS were treated in EDs, with case counts highest in July, followed by June and August. Study authors caution, however, that estimates don’t include injuries treated at urgent care facilities or other outpatient settings.

"The issue is likely underreported and thus underappreciated," lead author C.W. David Chang, MD, said in an American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery press release. "Because of the uncommon nature of wire bristle injuries, people may not be as mindful about the dangers and implications. Awareness among emergency department physicians, radiologists, and otolaryngologists is particularly important so that appropriate tests and examinations can be conducted."

Study authors recommend that caution be exercised when cleaning grills with wire-bristle brushes – or, even better, that alternative cleaning methods be employed – and that cooking grates be inspected prior to putting food on the grill.