Barbecuers tell their brush bristle horror stories

Tania Di Mauro shows a cellphone photo of her throat scars. (JACK BOLAND/QMI Agency)

Tania Di Mauro shows a cellphone photo of her throat scars. (JACK BOLAND/QMI Agency)

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

Ever since an Alberta woman came forward with her horror story of having a loose barbecue brush bristle lodged in her throat, other Canadians are stepping forward with their own stories. But the problem isn't new.

And there's a solution, say experts: Buy better brushes and inspect the ones you have.

Beth Jefferson was horrified to hear of the Alberta woman's medical adventures after a small bristle wiggled its way into her throat after eating a barbecued burger, and it made her wonder why nothing has been done to get the brushes off the shelves in the two years since she suffered a punctured bowel after making shish kebabs.

When Jefferson went to the hospital, a scan showed the wire.

"I was going septic — they actually told me if I had waited another 24 hours, I probably would have died," said the 55-year-old Clarence Creek, Ont., woman, who spent four months off work recovering.

"I'm not the only one, this (Alberta) lady is not the only one," she said. "I guess people have to die before people do anything."

It is a danger doctors — and Health Canada — have warned about before.

A 2012 study found that over an 18-month period, half-a-dozen people showed up at the ER at one Rhode Island hospital with throat or abdominal pain after eating grilled meat. All six patients needed emergency surgery.

A Health Canada spokeswoman said the agency — which issues safety alerts about consumer products — hasn't received any incident reports from the public about barbecue brushes, although she encouraged anyone who has had a problem to report it online.

The agency flags the danger in its barbecue-season safety tips, warning people to inspect brushes before use and toss them if there are any loose bristles so they won't end up in food.

"I've even had one in my teeth," said Jordan Logan, resident barbecue expert at the Fireplace Centre and Patio Shop in Ottawa, who now touts a $10 three-sided brush with bristles wound around a metal frame instead of punched through a head.

He switched after hearing stories from a nurse of people ending up in the ER and also warns regular grillers need two brushes a season because matted bristles break.

While health officials can't recommend one type as safer than another, Logan says you get what you pay for.

"I think it's worth it to spend the extra $9 on the brush rather than going to the hospital," he said.

That didn't help Tania Di Mauro of Toronto.

The 45-year-old needed to take months off her job after an emergency tracheotomy, when doctors were unable to remove a loose bristle, lodged in her throat after a steak dinner.

Di Mauro said the brush used on the grill that night was a higher-end variety.

She said still enjoys barbecue, but now cuts steak into very small pieces. And her family now uses a cleaning stone instead of a brush to scrape off the grill.

- with files from Megan Gillis and Blake Wolfe


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