Canada could start regulating barbecue brushes

No standards for safety labels, manufacturing specifications or testing procedures exist today for barbecue brushes, but a newly commissioned study will examine those issues.

No standards for safety labels, manufacturing specifications or testing procedures exist today

A simple barbecue brush can land you in the hospital. (CBC)

Regulations for Canada's barbecue brushes could be on the horizon.

Health Canada is commissioning the Standards Council of Canada to develop a voluntary standard for barbecue brushes and it's estimated the work will take 12 to 18 months to complete. 

There are currently no standards for safety labels, manufacturing specifications or testing procedures.

"That's amazing. That's finally an answer to what we've been asking them to do," said Lisa Wadden. "The problem with these brushes … is we don't know where they're coming from, we don't know how they're made, we don't know how sturdy they are; there's no real recommendation of how long people should be using them."

9 incidents in 2017

In 2014, a metal bristle from a barbecue brush ended up lodged in the Dartmouth, N.S., woman's throat. Three years and two unsuccessful surgeries later, the bristle is still there. She said it still causes her pain to this day.

A CT Scan image shows a barbecue brush bristle lodged in Lisa Wadden's throat. (Lisa Wadden)

"It's like a needle in a haystack and unfortunately the haystack is my throat," she said.

Wadden isn't alone.

The federal government counted nine similar incidents in 2017.

Health Canada advises those using barbecue brushes to regularly inspect them for signs of damage, to inspect grills and barbecued food for loose bristles, to replace brushes regularly and to throw away brushes with bristles that appear loose or stick to the grill.

The department said incidents involving wire barbecue brushes should be reported to Health Canada and to the store where it was purchased.

Developing standards

The brush Wadden and her husband used to cook burgers was fairly new and she said "it wasn't in bad disrepair; it wasn't in bad shape."

While Wadden welcomes regulations on barbecue brushes, she said more could be done. It is really difficult to see bristles that have fallen off the brush, onto the grill or into food, which makes the brushes dangerous, she said.

"Ideally, I'd like to see them off the market totally. But I think Canada needs to have some sort of code to help keep people safe," Wadden said.

In an email to CBC News, Health Canada said the review of barbecue brushes will likely result in criteria for testing and labelling — not bans.

"The safety concerns with these products are not specific to a particular brand or make of barbecue brush. That is why the department is working with industry to commission a voluntary standard that would improve the safety of all products that comply with the new standard," the Health Canada statement read.

Barbecue brush alternative

Wadden said that she will likely never use a barbecue brush again..

"I don't think I could ever go back to using them. I had such a terrible experience. It took up a large chunk of my year. I almost have a fear of any sort of grill. We go on vacation and see these barbecues at our cabins and cottage and I see a wire brush hanging from it and there's just no way I could use that," Wadden said.

These days, Wadden says she uses a ball of tinfoil to scrape the grill. She said that method works just as well as using barbecue brushes.

With files from Brett Ruskin