If you clean your barbecue grill with a wire-bristle brush, make sure no bristles get left behind, or they might end up embedded in your burger and cause serious problems if you inadvertently ingest them. Such a scenario may sound rather improbable but, as reported in a study from the University of Missouri, an estimated 130 wire-brush injuries requiring hospital emergency treatment occur in the U.S. annually—most often in the summer, especially July (happy Independence Day!). The estimate was based on data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which monitors all types of product-related injuries resulting in visits to emergency departments. The CDC issued a similar warning about the potential dangers of these brushes in 2012.
Most of the injuries from ingesting the small bristles are to the throat area (including the tonsils) and the oral cavity (tongue, mouth, palate, and teeth), but there are also reports of the wires causing damage to the esophagus—and even perforating the intestines, necessitating emergency surgery.
Discard your wire-bristle brush if any bristles are loose or rusty, and always inspect the grill carefully before using it. Better yet, use an alternative cleaning tool such as a nylon or metal-coil brush, stainless steel grid scraper, or pumice stone.
Putting it into perspective: Bear in mind that the greatest risk from grilling comes not from a wire bristle gone astray, but from undercooking meat and poultry, since that may not sufficiently kill harmful bacteria that may be present. There are also risks from accidental fires, inhalation of smoke (no smoke is good smoke), and potentially carcinogenic compounds that form in meats that are cooked at high temperature.
For more on grilling safety, see Is Grilling a Health Hazard?
Also see 13 Tips for a Healthier Barbecue.