And you probably have one on your patio right now.

By Kimberly Holland
Updated: June 20, 2019
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The last thing you want to cook up with your burgers, sausages, and grilled eggplant is a medical emergency. But each year, more than 140 people visit hospital emergency departments because they ingest wire bristles from grill brushes that get into their food.

A study in Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery found that between 2002 and 2014, nearly 1700 people visited hospital emergency departments for injuries after they ate or ingested wire bristles. But, the researchers added, they think the numbers could be higher because their study only accounted for visits to emergency rooms. Minor incidents may seek treatment from a doctor or urgent care clinic, or they may not need treatment at all.

The American Medical Association cautions that wire-bristle grill brushes should be used with caution because the petite pieces may break off while you’re scrubbing and stick to the grill grates. Then, when you’re cooking, the small pieces of metal transfer to the food you’re grilling. You bite down on a piece, and you could injure your tongue, mouth, throat, or tonsils. Less commonly, you could swallow the wire and injure your digestive system. In some cases, the damage may be so severe it requires surgery.

Safer Alternatives for Cleaning Grills

Wire-bristle brushes may be used commonly, but they’re not at all the only effective cleaners. Grill stones with a handle ($21, amazon.com) are highly effective. Brushes with bristle-free stainless steel wire coils ($22, amazon.com) scrub away residue without the risk of leaving behind potentially dangerous pieces, too.

You can also crumple up a sheet of aluminum, and hold it with long-handled tongs to scrub the residue off grates. You may have to use several pieces to clean the entire grill.

How to Safely Use Wire-Bristle Brushes

If you prefer wire-bristle brushes or just bought a new one and don’t yet want to toss it, you can use it, but you’ll need to take a few precautions first. Before putting any food on the hot grill, check each grate visually. Then, watch each piece of food as it’s flipped or as it comes off the grill.

When wire-bristle brushes have worn areas or spots that are missing bristles, it’s a good indication the brush is falling apart. Time to ditch it. Replace wire brushes frequently so you don’t overuse them and run the risk of losing bristles on the grates. 

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