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Ban the Bristle


On August 11th, 2011, a 50-year-old man was admitted to the hospital with severe abdominal pain. A CT scan found that a small metal wire had perforated his intestine. It was surgically removed, and he was released from the hospital the following day. An investigation determined that a metal bristle from his grill cleaning brush had come loose and attached itself to the steak he was grilling. The man had unknowingly swallowed that bristle.

This incident prompted a group of researchers to look into how often something like this occurs. They set processes in place to track people entering hospital emergency rooms after ingesting grill

Grill Bristle
Grill Bristle

brush bristles. Their initial report suggested that there may be as many as 130 cases per year in the United States.

Based on this report, government agencies jumped to address the issue. Both the FDA and Consumer Product Safety Commission in the United States and Health Canada examined the issue. All confirmed that a problem existed though they agreed that the risk was small. It was, however, present.

To the Consumer

The recommended guidelines for consumers, as stated by nearly every authority on the subject, is to consider a grill brush alternative. Something that does not rely on metal bristles. Otherwise, consumers should inspect their brushes and their grills for loose wires. If the brush appears damaged, replace the brush.

Some manufacturers sell brushes with replaceable heads. It sounds like a workable idea but finding these replacement parts isn’t always easy. After all, do you remember where you bought your grill brush? Do you know what brand it is? Could you find a replacement head if you need one? Are you motivated to look it up online and order a new brush head?

Virtually every other grilling expert and I recommend a grill cleaning tool other than a wire bristle brush. In fact, if you find an article that suggests a wire bristle brush, know that the author is nothing more than a hack. Waste no more of your time with them. Find a bristle free cleaning solution and stick with it.

To the Manufacturer

Many of you have had input on the government’s grill brush recommendations. Others of you have simply ignored the problem. Either way, there has been no solution. I know that no trade organization cares enough to act and that most companies look the other way because they believe that 130 cases are not worth the consideration. They are missing the point.

Every spring, a news story surfaces with a title such as “Backyard BBQ Ends in the Emergency Room.” This story will appear in print, online, or on the nightly news. Guess what? There really is such a thing as bad press. It hurts the industry, and it makes manufacturers and retailers appear not to care. By doing this, you are placing the onus on the consumer. You are blaming the victim, and you know it.

And yet, the answer is right in front of you. Consider my friend Brad Barrett. He is the man behind GrillGrate, a company that has revolutionized grilling over the past decade. He has retrofitted many grills and smokers, making them work more efficiently. If you look at the GrillGrate list of grill cleaning accessories, you will not find a wire bristle. Now it is your turn.

Ban the Bristle

There are alternatives, and you know it. No, they are not as cheap or easy to source, but that is because you have not invested the time or energy to make them so. By banning the bristle and moving to a grill cleaning tool that does not land hundreds of people a year in the hospital, you can eliminate the negative news stories, save lives, and create an expanded product line that might turn a better profit.

Honestly, you have nothing to lose but bins of cheap brushes that are sold damaged and ready to inflict pain and suffering. There is no longer an excuse. The problem has been weighed and measured. The next time someone is injured or dies because of your product, you will be liable. And I will do everything in my power to make sure that your customers know of your culpability.

How You Can Help

First, start by signing the Petition to Ban the Bristle.

If you are a consumer, do not buy wire-bristle grill brushes. It is as simple as that. Buy any of the alternatives that fit your needs and pocketbook. Purchase them as gifts for family and friends. Buy Dad a wireless grill cleaning tool for Father’s Day. The life you save might be your own.

If you are a retailer, at the very least, carry alternatives. Display them and explain to your customers why they shouldn’t be a bristle grill brush. Better yet, don’t carry them at all. If you leave them out of your product lines, the companies that make these products might be encouraged to change their ways.

If you are a manufacturer, ban the bristle. You can do this easily, and even claim that you are protecting consumer health. Market your social responsibility and pat yourself on the back for finally doing the right thing. I don’t care. Just make the changes.

Derrick Riches
Derrick Riches

I began writing about Barbecue & Grilling in 1997 with one mission, to help the backyard chef have the best experience possible.



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