Doctors warn against using wire brushes to clean grills

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Doctors in the US are concerned that a lack of awareness about the dangers posed by wire bristles used to clean cooking equipment could be putting health at risk.

And as summer approaches and many families think of dusting of the barbecue, Dr David Chang of the University of Missouri School of Medicine urged people to exercise caution when cleaning grills with wire-bristle brushes, examining brushes prior to each use and discarding if bristles are loose.

There is a danger that bristles could become loose, stick to the grill and then be eaten and becoming lodged in the mouth or throat.

A US study estimated there were 1,693 people admitted to A&E with wire brush-related issues between 2002 and 2014 but said this may be an underestimate as figures do not include those who visited outpatient units.

It found the most common location of injury was the oral cavity and the oropharynx which includes the throat and tonsils.

Injuries involving the oesophagus and head and neck were more frequent than abdominal injuries.

And unsurprisingly most cases were seen over the summer.

But doctors and the public may not be aware of the danger and the medical implications of wire bristle injuries.

This lack of awareness can result in a delayed diagnosis and treatment.

Associate Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology Dr David Chang said: “The issue is likely underreported and thus underappreciated.

“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.”

Cooking grates should be checked for any loose wires before starting cooking and alternative cleaning methods should be used.

The study published in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery involved a review of medical literature and and the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and the consumer reported injury database SaferProducts.gov.

In the UK, Katherine Willans, 34, found out about the dangers of wire bristles to her cost.

She had to undergo surgery after an inch long wire bristle in a panini bought from Caffe Nero became lodged in her throat.

It had came from a wire brush wrongly used to clean a grill at the chain’s shop in Putney High Street in south west London.

But the chain was cleared of any wrongdoing of breaching food hygiene regulations by magistrates after hearing staff ignored strict training procedures and brought in the wire brush because they thought it was more efficient.

Wire brushes were also found in Caffe Nero branches in Clapham Junction, south London, and Boston, Lincolnshire, Wimbledon Magistrates Court heard.

Ms Willans felt sick after eating the panini during a lunch break with her mum and then spent three days feeling ill with the wire stuck in her throat before going to hospital on August 3rd, 2014.

During the operation to remove the bristle Ms Willans even suffered a drop in heart rate and was put on an ECG monitor.

After the verdict, Ms Willans, of Ashtead, Surrey, said: “One of my reasons for bringing this case was because I didn’t want an unpleasant experience like this happening to anyone else.

“Changing Caffe Nero’s procedures or protocols could help prevent that happening, but I feel that this verdict doesn’t necessarily mean that they will.

“The point of this case was to change policies so I could be confident this would never happen again. But that hasn’t happened.”

The court heard workers at the Putney branch had brought in the brush - which was even used by the store manager - at least a year before the incident.

During the three-day trial, a number of staff testified that they regularly used the brush despite knowing what they were doing was against procedure.

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