Cleaning Barbecue Grill With Metal Brush Could Have Serious Health Consequences

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meatSenator Charles E. Schumer, joined by Chuck Bell, Programs Director at Consumers Union, called on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine whether metal bristle grill brushes are safe for consumer use after Consumer Reports publicized reports of two serious injuries involving the brushes in the last week alone. Two men from New Jersey and Washington State were recently hospitalized and underwent emergency surgery after accidentally swallowing a metal bristle that had broken off their grill brushes and become attached to their food. According to reports, nearly a dozen people across the country have reported similar accidents to the CPSC over the last three years, and according to a study published by the American Journal of Roentgenology, six patients in Rhode Island alone, over an 18-month period, accidentally swallowed wire grill brush bristles. Schumer today called on the CPSC and the FDA to launch a review of whether the bristles are safe and also issue warnings to consumers about the dangers of ingesting these metal grill bristles.

“Metal bristles are one topping no one wants on their burger this holiday season,” said Schumer. “Grilling season should be a great time for the whole family, not a time to be worried about an emergency visit to the hospital. I urge the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the FDA to launch a safety review of these products and warn consumers about their potential dangers. I’m also urging consumers to use caution when using these metal grill brushes this summer to avoid more accidents like these.”

“Grill brushes that have metal bristles can pose a serious, unexpected hazard, if the bristles come off the brush and become lodged in foods,” said Chuck Bell, programs director for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. “If the bristles are swallowed, they can cause choking and/or perforation of the digestive tract. Consumers Union strongly supports Sen. Schumer’s call for a federal safety review of metal grill brushes by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. We urge the CPSC and FDA to issue safety advisories to warn consumers about the problem, and to initiate any appropriate follow-up actions including product recalls, if particular products are found to be unsafe or defective. While the injuries involving these products may be relatively rare, they can be very serious when they occur. We urge the CPSC and FDA to promptly investigate the problem and act quickly to protect consumers.”

When consumers use metal bristle grill brushes to clean grills, metal bristles can break off and accidentally become imbedded in food cooked on the grill. In the last week alone, two men, one from New Jersey and one from Washington State, were hospitalized and forced to undergo emergency surgery to remove metal bristles from their stomachs after having accidently ingested them. According to reports, the New Jersey man had to undergo surgery to remove the 1 ½-inch-long metal wire and repair the hole in his large intestine. In the case of the Washington man, doctors initially couldn’t find anything wrong with him. Only after they gave the man a CAT scan did they find a metal wire that had penetrated one of his intensities. Doctors had to remove a half-foot of his small intestine.

These two cases are only the latest example of the potential dangers of metal bristle grill brushes. According to news reports, the CPSC has received nearly a dozen complaints of similar accidents from across the country, and those numbers are likely much lower than the actual number of cases. In an article in the American Journal of Roentgenology, Rhode Island Hospital physicians identified six cases during an 18-month period at one Rhode Island hospital of patients accidentally ingesting metal grill brush bristles that had wound up imbedded in grilled meat after metal bristle brushes were used to clean the barbecue. Surgery was performed on three patients, including one patient in which the metal bristle perforated the patient’s stomach and liver. Doctors in the study found the results “striking” and said that the “public should be aware of this potential danger.”

In a letter to the CPSC and the FDA today, Schumer called on the agencies to launch a safety review of the products to determine whether they are safe for consumers. In the letter, Schumer requested that the CPSC review hospital injury data to determine whether there is a pattern of injury that would require a product recall. Schumer also asked the CPSC to evaluate whether manufacturers or importers have failed to report product-safety-related information as required by law. Finally, Schumer requested that both agencies take immediate action – such as an advisory on their websites – to warn consumers of the risk of serious injury from accidentally ingesting metal grill brush bristles that are loose or have already broken off.

The text of Schumer’s letter is below.

May 28, 2012

The Honorable Inez Moore Tenenbaum The Honorable Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.
Chairman Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration
Consumer Product Safety Commission Department of Health and Human Services
4330 East West Highway 10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Bethesda, Maryland 20814 Silver Spring, Maryland 20993

Dear Chairman Tenenbaum and Dr. Hamburg,

I write today to request your attention to a serious consumer safety problem involving brushes with metal bristles used to clean grills and barbecues. I am alarmed by recent news reports of consumers swallowing metal bristles that had become embedded in food after using a grill brush to clean the grill. In both cases, the men had to undergo emergency surgery to remove the bristles and repair the significant internal damage caused by the metal wires. I am asking both agencies to look into this serious consumer product and food safety issue.

With public reports of two serious injuries in the last week alone, I am concerned that there are many more that have gone unreported. I respectfully request that the CPSC review hospital injury data to determine whether there is a pattern of injury that would require a product recall. I also ask that you evaluate whether manufacturers or importers have failed to report product-safety-related information as required by law. As you know, manufacturers and importers have an obligation to report a potentially hazardous product – a product containing a defect which creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death – to the CPSC immediately.

As we head into the summer grilling season, I also am concerned that the risk of injury from loose grill brush bristles is not obvious to the consumer. I respectfully request that both agencies take immediate action – such as an advisory on your websites – to warn consumers of the risk of serious injury from accidentally ingesting metal grill brush bristles that are loose or have already broken off.

Thank you for your attention to this important consumer safety issue. I ask that you please keep me informed of developments.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

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