Ban barbecue brushes: doctor

Brushes pose a health risk because wire bristles can get ingested

A Red Deer physician says it is time to ban barbecue brushes as a health risk.

Dr. Martin Owen’s patient Beverly Smith had to undergo emergency surgery in October after a barbecue brush bristle lodged in her intestines, perforating her small bowel.

Owen has now joined other doctors who are warning about the public danger posed by the wire-bristle brushes and want Health Canada to act.

Federal health authorities launched a review of the dangers of barbecue brushes last summer but have decided against a ban.

Owen is not happy with that decision and would ideally like to see a ban and recall of the brushes.

At the very least, brushes should come with a bold warning about the dangers, he said in an interview from the Horizon Family Medicine walk-in clinic inside Real Canadian Superstore.

There have been numerous reports over the past few years of barbecue bristles coming loose. Health Canada has received about 40 since 2004, 28 of those resulted in injuries.

Besides his case, Owen heard of another case where a Red Deer surgeon also had to operate because a bristle had become lodged inside someone.

One of the reasons barbecue bristles pose such a danger is that they are almost impossible to detect in a routine medical checkup. Symptoms such as abdominal pain and constipation are common with so many potential ailments.

In Smith’s case, the bristle did not show up on an X-ray Dr. Owen ordered because he thought she may be heading towards full bowel obstruction. He told her to go home and if symptoms got worse to go to the hospital’s emergency department immediately.

Smith’s condition did deteriorate, and she went to the hospital, where further tests were done.

“Even the CT scan she had done wasn’t sure it was metal,” said Owen. “They thought maybe it was a fish bone in there.”

Soon after Smith’s arrival in hospital it became clear to the surgeon that her bowel was perforated and she went under the knife. She lost 20 centimetres of her small bowel, and it would be eight weeks before she could return to work.

Owen said he hopes by going public, he and others may convince Health Canada to reconsider its barbecue bristle approach.

“You should always feel some degree of confidence that Health Canada will be looking after the best interests of Canadians’ health and not siding with a commercial product that is clearly causing harm.

“We should expect that. We shouldn’t have a vague ‘hopefully, it happens.’”

Owen said it’s likely not all barbecue brushes are potentially dangerous. But how is the public to know which are and which are not.

Anyone who has ever cleaned a grill knows their brushes take a beating and wear down quickly.

“We don’t ever think, where is that metal going? Some of it is going into your food.”

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