Oh, those glorious summer barbecues.
And, of course, the trips to the emergency room for burns, food
poisoning, the occasional bit of steak that went down the wrong way
and won't come up, and a host of other hazards.
years, the medical literature has recorded all of those and more.
But unreported until now, says a physician here, is the latest
hazard. It's the wire brush used to clean the grill.
past year, says Paolo Campisi, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat
specialist at the Hospital for Sick Children, three children have
shown up at the emergency department to have broken-off wire
bristles removed from their throats.
In one case, a
15-year-old boy, the wire fragment had migrated through the child's
neck and come to rest between the carotid artery and the jugular
vein, he said.
"Certainly the location didn't make any of us
happy," Dr. Campisi said, noting the fragment could easily have
punctured either of the blood vessels.
The boy had been
eating barbecued steak with his family a few days earlier and had
felt a scratch in his throat, which he put down to a charred piece
of meat. But when he was still unable to eat several days later, he
saw a doctor who referred him to the hospital.
looked at the x-ray, I knew right away what it was, because we'd
seen it already a couple of times that year," said Dr. Campisi, who
has submitted a report on the hazard to the Journal of Pediatric
Barbecue experts -- well aware of the usual gamut
of possible grilling injuries -- were nonplussed nevertheless by the
"It's bizarre beyond belief," said Donna
Myers, a spokesperson for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue
Association, an industry trade group. "We've never heard of it."
She said it's hard to imagine how a bristle could stick to
barbecue grill after it has been cleaned and then get into food.
"There should be nothing left for it to stick to," she said, "but we
are going to address it with our members."
In general, Myers
said, barbecues pose the same risks as any other appliance that uses
heat, and safety measures are just common sense. "They're things
like don't put a hot grill on your wooden deck and don't let kids
and dogs play around a hot barbecue," she said.
barbecues are common and most are probably minor. But a 1991 British
study showed that 2.16% of the cases seen in the burn unit of a
Buckinghamshire hospital were from bonfires and barbecues.
Aside from the issue of heat, the various types of barbecues
have their own hazards, the association says.
burn propane that's under pressure. An over-filled propane tank can
leak, creating an explosion hazard. Also, some people store spare
tanks near the barbecue, where they can overheat.
But a more
common hazard comes when the barbecue doesn't light the first time.
Trying again too soon can cause the unlit gas to explode, frizzling
hair and burning skin. The association recommends waiting five
minutes with the barbecue lid open before re-lighting.
Electric grills don't have that problem, but they have all
the dangers associated with electrical appliances. For example, just
as one doesn't take one's hair dryer into the shower, the
association recommends not using an electric grill in the rain.
If you use wood in your barbecue, don't burn lumber
impregnated with copper-chrome-arsenate, once used as a
preservative. A 1975 article in the journal Clinical Toxicology
reported on five children who suffered arsenic poisoning after they
ate meat grilled over such a fire.
Probably the most common
side effect of grilling is the so-called "barbecue syndrome" -- food
poisoning of various kinds. Again, precautions are just common
sense, says Myers. Among them:
Keep your hands clean.
Keep meat cold before grilling it.
Keep raw meat,
poultry and fish and their juices away from other food.
Sanitize cutting boards and countertops with chlorine
Cook meat thoroughly.
If you want a
long-term fear, consider that charred meat, as well as meat cooked
at high temperatures, contains heterocyclic amines, or HCAs,
compounds that have been linked to cancer.
the cancer risk from grilled meat is hard to quantify, says Karen
Collins, M.S., R.D., a dietitian who is nutrition adviser for the
Washington-based charity American Institute for Cancer Research,
which focuses on links between diet and cancer.
She cited a
National Cancer Institute study that found that those who ate their
beef medium-well or well-done had more than three times the risk of
stomach cancer than those who ate their beef rare or medium-rare.
On the other hand, the study also found that people who ate
beef four or more times a week had more than twice the risk of
stomach cancer than those consuming beef less frequently.
you're worried about cancer, Collins suggests, try cooking your meat
indirectly -- off to one side of the barbecue flame -- and at a
lower temperature. Studies have also shown that marinades or a few
minutes of microwave cooking before grilling reduce the formation of
Other rare barbecue risks:
Toothpicks. In a
letter to the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year,
physicians reported on a 67-year-old woman who was at a barbecue and
accidentally ingested a toothpick, which led to a right coronary
Barbecue skewers. Although they're ill suited
for the purpose, they can be used as weapons. In 2003, German
researchers reported the case of a 42-year-old man who bled to death
after a barbecue skewer was shoved through his superior vena cava.
"Considerable force" was needed, they said.
poisoning. In 1961, researchers reported that using a refrigerator
shelf as an improved barbecue grill caused cadmium toxicity, which
has symptoms ranging from headache and chest pains to pulmonary
edema and death.