Summer is here. And for me, summertime means grilling time.   

But did you know that how you clean your grill could turn a barbeque into a trip to the hospital? I didn’t either.

Dangers of a Wire Grill Brush

A few summers back, we noticed that an unusual number of people had come to our emergency department complaining of abdominal pain or pain with swallowing.  Digging deeper, we discovered that these patients all had something in common – each had eaten grilled meat within the previous 24 hours.

Then we learned of another common factor that was even more important – each of the grills had been cleaned with what so many backyard chefs like to use – a wire grill brush.

It turns out that the small wire bristles of these brushes can break off and stay on the grill’s grates. When raw meat is placed on the grates, the bristles attach to someone’s dinner. Without knowing it, you’re eating a tiny piece of metal that can cause serious injury.

Mouth and throat injuries are most common. In some cases, however, bristles can travel into the digestive system and can cause serious injury that may require surgery.

How to Safely Clean Your Grill

If you just can’t part with your wire brush, be sure to clean your grill grates carefully after using it. After I learned about this, I began cleaning my cold grill with wet paper towels before cooking. This removes any bristles or any other lingering hazards.

Consider an alternative to wire grill brushes. Plenty of tools will do the job without leaving behind dangerous wire pieces that can stick to food. You may find some recommendations in the owner’s manual for your grill. Things like pumice or wadded up aluminum foil can also be used to safely clean a warm grill.

So go ahead, use that grill and enjoy the summer – just remember to clean it carefully!

David Grand, MD

Dr. David Grand is the director of body MRI at Rhode Island Hospital and is an Associate Professor of diagnostic imaging at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.