New Canadian standard developed to make BBQ grill brushes safer after ingested bristles cause injuries

A new national safety standard for barbecue grill brushes will require a warning label and testing to reduce the risk of wire bristles becoming detached, embedded in food and accidentally ingested — a solution that one injured woman says doesn't go far enough. test

Standard won’t solve the problem, says woman injured after accidentally ingesting bristle

A new standard for wire bristle barbecue brushes has been developed in response to injuries from bristles that can come off the brushes. (Vera-Lynn Kubinec/CBC)

A new national safety standard for barbecue grill brushes will require a warning label and testing to reduce the risk of wire bristles becoming detached, embedded in food and accidentally ingested. 

Over a six-year span ending in January, Health Canada received 59 reports of incidents related to barbecue brushes, including 48 injuries, according to its Consumer Product Safety Program.

Following reports of injuries caused by loose bristles, Health Canada decided in 2017 not to ban sales of the wire bristle brushes.

Instead, the federal regulator worked with the Retail Council of Canada and other groups to come up with a standard for barbecue brushes sold in Canada.

'Sad that there can't be a stop to this'

Bev Smith underwent emergency surgery to remove a 20-centimetre section of her bowel after a metal barbecue brush bristle perforated it in 2017. She said she's disappointed the new standard still allows for wire bristle BBQ brushes.

She maintains Health Canada should have banned the sale of them.

"It's sad that there can't be a stop to this — that there can't be something done so it never happens again," Smith said. "There wouldn't be so many hospital visits. There wouldn't be so many surgeries," Smith said. "And someday somebody ... is going to eventually die from it."

WATCH | Bev Smith was injured after accidentally ingesting a wire bristle:

Bev Smith says wire bristle BBQ brushes should be banned.

3 years ago
Duration 0:24
Bev Smith underwent emergency surgery in 2017 after accidentally ingesting a wire bristle from a BBQ brush. She says sales of the brushes should be banned.

Retail group pleased

The new standard, which was developed by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group), sets out testing parameters for barbecue brushes and outlines warnings that are to accompany brushes that meet the standard.

"This is something that we've been wanting for a while," said Cory Anderson, senior manager of government relations and regulatory affairs for the Retail Council of Canada, which represents more than 45,000 storefronts. 

Health Canada says the Consumer Product Safety Program has received 59 reports related to barbecue brushes from Jan. 1, 2014, to Jan. 29, 2020. (Health Canada)

"We are extremely happy that it is now a reality, and retailers will be doing what they can to get these certified brushes on the shelves as soon as possible," Anderson said.

"It's in the retailers' best interests to sell safe product," he said, in explaining the rationale for a standard. "They don't want to be selling product that could be bringing harm to their consumers."

Standard is voluntary

But brushes that don't meet the CSA standard, which is voluntary for companies, won't disappear from store shelves overnight.

"There is not technically a cut-off date or a specific date that a retailer would be required to sell a CSA certified barbecue brush," said Anderson, who represented the Retail Council on the technical committee on barbecue brush safety.

"It's definitely more of a gradual thing," said Anderson.

"There is a long process for manufacturers to not only design and produce these brushes, but it has to go through the testing," he said.

"All the testing and the labels have to be produced for each of these brushes. And so that can take up to a year. And then following that, over the next few years, retailers will start stocking these different barbecue brushes for sale in Canada," Anderson explained.

WATCH | Loose bristles fall away from barbecue brush:

How wire bristles can easily fall off a BBQ brush

5 years ago
Duration 0:19
Health Canada has decided against banning the sale of wire-bristle barbecue brushes, and is instead leaving brush safety mostly in the hands of industry and grillers, according to its latest risk assessment report.

'One bristle is all it takes'

Smith, from Red Deer, Alta., says she still suffers from bowel problems, pain, fatigue, nausea and the anxiety that accompanies her symptoms.

"It sure takes a long time for anything to get done, and people are still getting hurt by them. I wonder how many more will be hurt by the time that even comes out?" Smith said.

"One bristle is all it takes, and it still means that there will be people hurt by them. People will still ingest them as long as they fall out of the brushes," she said.

"The old [brushes] are still out here, and people are still buying them."

She has filed a lawsuit in Alberta against the retailer and the distributor of the barbecue brush she used, seeking $2.5 million in damages for things like pain and suffering, and punitive damages. 

The Alberta government is also suing jointly in Smith's lawsuit to recover the costs of her health care arising from her injuries.

WATCH | CBC reports on new national standards for wire barbecue grill brushes:

Wire barbecue grill brushes

3 years ago
Duration 1:47
A new national safety standard for barbecue grill brushes will require a warning label and testing to reduce the risk of wire bristles becoming detached, embedded in food and accidentally ingested.

Safety awareness

Health Canada said it provided $165,000 between 2018 and 2020 for the development of the safety standard.

"Health Canada will continue its safety awareness campaigns through its social media channels, reminding Canadians to replace metal bristle barbecue brushes every season, to regularly inspect brushes for signs of damage, to inspect grills and barbequed food for loose bristles," a Health Canada spokesperson said by email.

The health department asks anyone who experiences a grill brush incident to report it to Health Canada and the store of purchase.

The CSA Group, which declined an interview, is making copies of the standard available on its website.

New standard for wire bristle brushes

The new standard sets out methods for testing brushes such as: 

  • Mechanically pulling on bristle tufts.
  • Exposing brushes to heating and cooling.
  • Exposing brushes to a five per cent concentration salt spray for 48 hours.

Brushes would also be labelled in uppercase letters with the word WARNING in both English and French, along with the text, "Stop using if any bristles are found on the grill. Bristles can get into the food and cause serious injury. Replacement after one year of use is recommended."

A further warning is to appear on a tag or packaging for a brush, indicating instructions for safe use:

"WARNING: Examine the brush prior to each use for loose bristles. Do NOT use if any loose or broken bristles are found. Discard brush immediately. Ensure cooking surface and brush are free of any bristles prior to cooking. Broken bristles can get into the food. Ingestion can cause serious internal injury."

The instructions also include a notice that the brush is not for commercial use.

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