Why BBQ brush bristles pose a serious health risk

There’s another threat to BBQ enjoyment to be wary of, and it’s not undercooked meat, hazardous gas or the potential of being burnt.

Metal thread lodges in one woman's throat, doctors unable to find it at first

The thread lodged in Melinda Mouldey's throat was sized at more than 2 centimetres and kept her in hospital for almost a week. (Melinda Mouldey)

There's another threat to barbeque enjoyment to be wary of, and it's not undercooked meat, hazardous gas or the potential of being burnt.

St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton says it has encountered several cases yearly in recent years where people have suffered injury after swallowing metal bristles from barbeque brushes.

One recent case has surgeons in Hamilton warning the public about the dangers of these barbecue grill cleaners.

Brantford resident Melinda Mouldey recently had a bristle removed from her throat at St. Joseph's hospital, sized at just over 2 centimetres.

Brantford resident Melinda Mouldey holds the bristle that was lodged in her throat for days. (Tucker Wilson/CBC)

The bristle came from a hamburger patty she had barbecued during a get-together. She immediately felt some pain in the back of her throat, then began throwing up.

Mouldey checked herself into St. Joseph's after doctors in Brantford were unable to find the tiny metal thread lodged in her esophagus.

"I thought it was maybe rosemary at first," said Mouldey, of when the bristle first started affecting her.

When the doctors at the Brantford hospital couldn't find anything "I started to doubt myself. . . I thought there was something else wrong with me, like cancer," Mouldey said.

Further checks on Mouldey's throat accidentally moved the bristle into a more hidden area, making it more difficult to retrieve.

After the initial trip to hospital Mouldey had her husband take her to St. Joseph's several days later hoping doctors there might recognize what was causing the massive amounts of pain in her throat.

Surgically removed

That's where doctors noticed the small, black thread in the back of her throat, and were able to successfully remove it through surgery.

"[Doctors] know it happens," said Dr. Natasha Cohen of people ingesting BBQ bristles. "Several of my colleagues have seen it a handful of times."

Cohen said she's read of cases where bristles go undetected for over a month, and knows of cases where patients had to have their tongues removed to prevent further damage.

Mouldey said she's scared because it is such a common household item. She posted a picture of her esophagus on Instagram to help get the word out, and she got back several responses from others who had also ingested bristles.

As for the barbeque, Mouldey said she's trying to avoid it, and has started cleaning with a different kind of brush – one without metal bristles.

"But I still won't eat burgers," she said.


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