Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Brush Up on BBQ Safety & Health

Guest post by Rhonda Turner

Brush is the key word here. Often, the only recognized hazards with grilling is undercooked meat, gas leaks on the grill, burns from the flames and the occasional grease fire. An unexpected, lesser-known hazard is the wire bristles from the grill brush.

The wire bristles from the brush often break off or fall out while the grates are being cleaned and remain on the grill surface without being noticed. Unfortunately, these wire bristles can end up attached to or imbedded in the food, and can be ingested. These tiny wire bristles can lodge in the throat, esophagus and intestines--essentially anywhere the food travels as it travels through the body. According to case reports, the severity of injury ranges from puncture of the soft tissues of the neck, causing severe pain on swallowing, to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract, requiring emergency surgery. 

CDC issued a report concerning this danger along with prevention guidelines in June 2012:
“Actions to prevent these injuries include increasing awareness among consumers, manufacturers, retailers, and medical professionals to promote prevention, timely diagnosis, and appropriate treatment. Additionally, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) currently is reviewing available grill-cleaning brush–related injury data to determine if an identifiable pattern of product defect could pose an unreasonable risk for injury or death, necessitating a consumer warning, product recall, or other regulatory action.”  
As an industrial hygiene consultant with the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, I have witnessed many things in the field, and I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable in most areas of safety and health. But last month was my first encounter with an ingested metal wire. After hours of waiting in an emergency room with my son, a CT scan revealed a foreign body lodged just above his esophagus. That foreign body was a wire bristle that he had swallowed while eating a grilled burger.

An ENT specialist tried repeatedly to remove the wire bristle. After several hours of watching the scopes and metal instruments being pushed up my son's nose and down his throat, I realized that what I didn’t know as common knowledge and had not heard mention of in any training or school, should be considered a safety and health hazard about which more people should be aware. It is definitely a topic worthy of more attention, especially during the summer months when employers have cookouts for their employees and families spend a lot of time grilling in the backyard.

As always, our job as safety and health professionals is to recognize/identify hazards, alleviate the danger, and prevent harmful incidents. Considering severity and probability in this situation, yes, it seems unlikely that this would actually happen, but the severity when it does, outweighs taking the chance. There are some alternatives to using wire brushes, but if you continue to use one, thoroughly inspect it and the grill grates to determine whether there are any loose or broken bristles that could become attached to your food.

Rhonda Turner is an industrial hygiene consultant with the Kentucky Labor Cabinet. The views expressed are hers and are not intended to be representative of the Labor Cabinet.