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Experts warning of barbecue brushes after boy hospitalized

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Saturday, September 3, 2016, 3:31 PM - With the last long weekend of the summer underway, doctors are warning people to be mind their barbecues after a six year-old Ontario boy was rushed to the hospital due to a bristle injury.

Experts are advising people to be very careful when cleaning the grill. Essentially, the individual wire bristles can come loose while scrubbing, and be left on the grill. They're small enough that you might not notice them when you start grilling, and might end up swallowing them if they stick to the food.

That's exactly what happened earlier this summer to six-year-old Anthony Fiore and now his mother is demanding wire-bristle barbecue brushes be banned. Fiore was eating a burger in his family's backyard when he complained of pain in his throat.

"It felt like a needle," Fiore told CBC.

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The boys's parents came forward with their story after Canadian surgeons urged people to toss away wire-bristle brushes last Wednesday.

The bristles can be removed by a physician, but finding them is difficult, and they can do serious damage before they are extracted.

"None of us have figured out a surefire way to get rid of them, so we'd prefer just to prevent it from happening in the first place," Nova Scotia otolaryngologist Ian Dempsey told CBC. "We're hoping that if enough people raise this issue, hopefully we'll just eliminate those types of brushes from the market and use a safer alternative."

If swallowed, the difficult-to-spot bristles can cause damage to the throat, and may require surgery to remove. Even if they are swallowed without getting stuck in the throat, they may still do so lower down the digestive tract.

"We knew something was wrong, and he was in extreme pain, because he was crying," Fiore's mother Nadia told CBC. "From the time we had dinner to the time we had surgery, it was about 12 hours later, because our journey started at the local hospital and then we were transported to Sick Kids."

Sick Kids surgeons were able to successfully remove the bristle. However, doctors warned the six-year-old boy could develop a throat infection due to bacteria on the bristle and ultimately, he did.

The family has stayed away from barbecue food since the bristle incident in June as it traumatized Anthony, according to his mother.

"I hope to have these brushes removed from the shelves, have them banned," she told CBC.

CBC Nova Scotia reports have seen one or two such cases weekly, and the Toronto Star reported earlier in the summer that physicians at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Toronto performed "dozens" of removal procedures last year.

In the U.S., a 2016 University of Missouri School of Medicine study found more than 1,600 injuries from wire bristles since 2002.

Healthcare providers say it's a good idea to inspect your grill carefully after cleaning, or better yet, avoid using a wire bristle brush altogether.

It is also a good idea to replace brushes when they appear matted. Rather than using wooden or plastic brushes with bristles, a brush with wires that are fastened around a metal backing is more secure, Duff Dixon, vice-president of development at Barbecue World told CBC. 

By leaving the barbecue on for a few minutes with the lid closed, you can loosen up any debris stuck to the grill, making for an easier cleaning experience.

WSLS10 in Florida suggests using just tongs and tinfoil to clean your grill, and here at The Weather Network, we found that using half an onion can be just as effective (see the video below).

RELATED: How to use an onion to clean your barbecue

SOURCES: CBC | Toronto Star | Science Daily | WSLS10

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