Kemptville family wants wire BBQ brushes trashed after bristle ordeal

A Kemptville family is urging people to trash their wire-bristle BBQ brushes after a bristle became lodged in a teen's neck last weekend, and despite Health Canada's decision not to recommend banning the brushes.

Health Canada risk assessment recommended not banning wire-bristle brushes despite injury risk

Kate Waytowich, 16, holds the cup containing the two-centimetre BBQ brush bristle that was lodged in her throat. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

A Kemptville family is urging people get rid of their wire-bristle barbecue brushes after a close call last weekend.

Their warning comes after Health Canada's risk management bureau evaluated the risk of the grilling accessory and didn't recommend a ban or recall of the brushes, despite calls from physicians to do so.

Kate Waytowich, 16, was eating barbecued chicken Sunday when she felt a sharp pain in her throat, which she compared to a pin constantly pushing into her neck.

"It kept getting worse and ... I remember it would get so bad that I would scream in the car," she said.

She was taken to Winchester District Memorial Hospital first, where a hair-thin two-centimetre sliver showed up on an X-ray.

'A needle in a haystack'

Her mother, Lynne Waytowich, is a medical imaging technologist at the hospital.

"We did X-rays on her and it's like literally trying to find a needle in a haystack," she said.

She was worried the bristle could perforate her daughter's bowel, but she was reassured by medical staff at CHEO that it was unlikely, she said.

This X-ray shows the bristle that lodged in Kate Waytowich's neck. (Lynne Waytowich)

The bristle didn't appear when staff at CHEO scoped Kate's throat, which involved putting a camera up her nose and down her throat. Despite the appearance the bristle had passed, Kate said the pain continued.

During the second scoping a day later, they found the bristle and she had it surgically removed. Kate said she's still experiencing some pain.

"Since it was stuck, I couldn't eat. I haven't really had a solid meal in like three days and every time I do eat now I feel sick," she said. "It's so painful, it's a weird feeling to have ... and I don't want anyone else to feel that way."

Man still has bristle in throat

Dan Bova from Carleton Place had a similar experience after biting into a BBQ pork tenderloin this past June.

His doctors could not find a way to easily remove the bristle that had lodged in his throat and it is still there to this day, he said.

They compared the procedure to removing a needle from a grapefruit without damaging the grapefruit.

He had been waiting for the report and read it Wednesday evening.

"Disappointing to say the least," he told CBC News in a text message.

Voluntary measures

A two-page report by Health Canada's risk management bureau — dated Aug. 22, and obtained by CBC News this week — acknowledges that "swallowing a wire bristle constitutes a potentially severe or life-threatening circumstance," but it doesn't recommend a ban on sales or a recall of brushes, which many physicians have called for.

It says voluntary recalls aren't practical for several reasons, including the fact there's no criteria for determining which brushes pose the greatest risk.

It also says mandatory product warnings likely wouldn't reduce the risk.

Instead, the report recommends asking the industry to "take steps to reduce the risk of bristles detaching," and for Health Canada to update its website with grill brush safety information and share safety tips on social media.

Kate and Lynne Waytowich are urging people to get rid of the wire-bristle barbecue brushes after an accident sent Kate to hospital. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

'They're just dangerous'

Lynne Waytowich said she supports the idea of a ban — though she's not sure how it would be enforced — or mandatory warning labels on the products.

She has a recommendation for anyone who has a wire-bristle brush in their house:

"Get rid of it. Even the new one. I don't think it's worth it," she said. "They're just dangerous."

The Waytowich family has thrown the brush that started their ordeal in the trash and are urging everyone in their family to follow suit.

A Health Canada risk assessment report found the number of reported incidents of bristles coming off a grill cleaning brush has climbed to 40. (CBC/Vera-Lynn Kubinec)