Are Wire Grill Brushes Dangerous?

A viral TikTok video warns they are. We asked two experts.

March 02, 2023

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Photo by: Helin Loik-Tomson/Getty Images

Helin Loik-Tomson/Getty Images

As the weather warms and grilling season nears, you may be readying your grill for action. But a viral TikTok video has sounded an alarm: Be careful about what tools you use to clean it.

In a video that has been watched 34.4 million times since it was posted on February 18, TikToker @beachgem10, who identifies herself in her bio as a St. Petersburg, Florida-based pediatric emergency medicine physician and mother of four, shares the details of an “interesting case that could save your life.”

“One of the most interesting cases that I have had to date is a four-year-old boy who was at a barbecue eating when he suddenly grabbed his ear and started crying, complaining of ear pain,” she recounts.

The little boy was brought to the emergency room, but nothing out of the ordinary was found. Still, the pain continued and eventually, after a flurry of much more thorough testing, doctors finally — seven to 10 days and multiple ER visits later — figured out what was causing the issue. A CT scan revealed that little boy had a two-centimeter-long metal wire lodged in his “peritonsillar tissues” and had developed an abscess around it.

“He had been eating a hamburger when this had happened, so the grill brush — the metal wires on the grill brush — had become lodged in the hamburger and when he ate the hamburger, it got lodged in the soft tissues,” she explains.

The little boy had surgery to remove the wire and drain the abscess, and was then started on a course of antibiotics. He ultimately recovered.

“But do not use grill brushes with metal wires,” she said. “There’s not only the risk that they can get lodged soft tissues on your throat, but they can also cause bowel obstructions and perforations in the abdomen if accidentally swallowed, and … they get mixed in the hamburger or the meat that’s getting cooked on the grill.”

Several commenters have chimed in with horror stories of their own. (We’ll spare you the chilling details.) And others vowed to throw their grill brushes away immediately or said they had already done so, due to previous reports about the potentially serious health dangers of ingesting errant wires.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, nutrition expert and author of The Family Immunity Cookbook, confirms that wire grill cleaning brushes can lose bristles that can get lodged in your food and consumed — potentially presenting the sort of health hazards @beachgem10 describes in her video. Though she stops short of calling for an all-out ban on wire-bristled grill brushes, Amidor says care must be taken when using them.

“If you choose to use a wire grill brush, make sure it is food grade and always check the grill surface carefully for bristles from the grill brush so it does not get stuck in food,” she advises. “If you find the brush is old and bristles are falling out, I recommend using another grill cleaning method or products.”

Specifically, Amidor suggests using a moist paper towel to wipe down the grill surface before firing it up, citing CDC guidance. You might also consider using a pumice stone or coil-shaped, bristle-free brush, depending on what kind of grill you have. Check the owner’s manual for your particular grill to find out what is recommended, Amidor says.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, nutrition consultant, certified athletic trainer and cookbook author, agrees. “This can certainly happen, but taking proper steps for cleaning and grill utensil upkeep can significantly reduce the risk,” she says.

“Clean your grill after every use to prevent accumulated build-up, which is harder to remove,” White advises. “Wash those utensils regularly as well and replace them frequently depending on how much you grill — before they show signs of bristles falling off.”

So is rushing out to throw your wire-bristle grill brush away overkill? Maybe, but after watching @beachgem10’s vivid viral video, many will probably decide that the potential risks of using them are just too hard to swallow.

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