A Canadian manufacturer says safety standards need to be imposed on wire bristle barbecue brushes sold in this country.

Currently, Health Canada is undertaking a risk assessment to evaluate the problem of bristles that can come off the grill cleaning tools, become stuck in food and accidentally ingested.

"Unless the product can be shown to be safe, it should be pulled off shelves," Tony Ponikvar, CEO of Hamilton, Ont.-based Felton Brushes, told CBC News.

Health Canada began its risk assessment after receiving reports of nine injuries from bristle incidents since 2011. A range of potential actions could result from the risk assessment — such as a product recall, a stop sale order or product seizures —  if Health Canada finds the brushes pose a danger to health or safety.

The federal regulator said it has received more reports of injury from the public after a CBC News story Monday about the risk assessment.

"I think they should do a stop sale and a recall based on certain criteria," Ponikvar said, adding the criteria need to be based on the quality of the product.

Another option open to the regulator would be to recommend standards for the manufacture of the brushes, which might make Canada the first country to do so, said Tyler Goodier, unit head for mechanical and physical hazards at Health Canada's risk management bureau.

Standards could be either voluntary —  developed by industry —  or mandatory, and put into regulations enforced by Health Canada.

"We currently administer 37 different regulations on various products, like cribs, cradles, bassinets, matches —  there are many of them," Goodier said.

"Oftentimes it's sufficient to have a voluntary standard that exists that industry members know about," he said.  "They can get a copy of it and follow it and make safe products without the need for an overarching piece of legislation."  

Ponikvar said his company, which has made brushes for a variety of industries since 1933, manufactured barbecue brushes in Canada until the 1970s, but had stopped making them until recently as retailers began importing cheaper brushes from other countries.

'Race to the bottom'

That started a "race to the bottom" over price, he said, resulting in compromised quality.

One national retailer told CBC News the price of a wire-bristle barbecue brush starts as low as $1.69.

"The bottom line is, you get what you pay for," Ponikvar said.

In recent years, Felton Brushes resumed making grill brushes, except they're for high-end users at a retail price of around $24, Ponikvar said.

"The bottom line is, you get what you pay for." - Tony Ponikvar, CEO, Felton Brushes

The bristles are wider in diameter than those of other brushes, he said, and last year his company had its grill brush tested by the standards organization CSA Group.

"We've developed our own internal standard, and from a safety perspective, I think any brush coming into this country should abide by some sort of a standard," Ponikvar said.

Kim Schellenberg of Red Deer,  Alta., is among those calling on Health Canada to stop the sale of the brushes. She accidentally ingested a bristle left behind on a grill and went through two surgeries as doctors tried to remove the painful wire from her neck.

Schellenberg said after that happened in 2014, she went to a store where grill brushes are sold and did her own test.

"I just went up to one in a store and just pulled and [a bristle] came right out," Schellenberg said. "I just started to cry because it is so not necessary."

Ponikvar disagreed with those who suggest that all sales of wire bristle brushes should end.

"I don't think it's a fair comment because there's certain quality levels," he said. "I agree with them, a cheap barbecue brush should not be sold. But a high quality brush that is safe and does the job should be sold."

He said his company's brushes are subjected to testing. "We pull-test ours from every batch."

Felton Brushes BBQ brush

Felton Brushes CEO Tony Ponikvar said his company had its barbeque grill brush tested by the CSA Group, a standards organization. (Submitted/Felton Brushes)

Health Canada expects to finish its risk assessment by the end of this summer.

If it were to recommend standards be developed for barbecue brushes, Goodier said, the Standards Council of Canada — a Crown corporation — could get involved.

He said the Standards Council could initiate a process involving industry stakeholders and any members of the public interested in the issue.

"The focus is always on safety first," Goodier said. "It's not about protecting one's turf. When you sit down to write a safety standard, it's all about accomplishing the goal of writing a standard that actually delivers on safety."


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