Metal bristles show up in food — and it’s not the first time

EDMONDS — Heather Marks couldn’t believe it.

Tuesday evening she heard news reports of a Tacoma man who recently had been hospitalized after swallowing food embedded with a metal bristle from a barbecue grill cleaning brush.

Wednesday morning she had her own personal encounter with bristles in her food from a grill brush. And not just one, but three.

Marks said she spotted something unusual in the egg sandwich her husband, Cliff Sanderlin had cooked for her. “I didn’t realize it was a bristle,” she said. “I just threw it away.”

But when she bit into the sandwich, she felt something sticking to the roof of her mouth.

“I had seen the piece on TV about the guy who had ingested one and ended up needing surgery,” she said. “I realized what had happened.”

When she examined her sandwich more closely, she said she found one more of the bristles.

Marks’ story is just one in a series of national reports on metal bristles from grill brush cleaners becoming embedded in food.

Earlier this month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report on six patients within a 15-month period in 2011 and 2012 who ended up in a Rhode Island emergency room after swallowing a bristle embedded in food. Six additional cases were reported in 2009 and 2010.

The injuries included a puncture of the soft tissues of the throat, causing severe pain when swallowing, and perforation of the gastrointestinal tract requiring emergency surgery.

Consumers are advised to check a grill’s cooking surface before cooking for bristles that may be stuck to its surface and end up in food.

The Associated Press reported that the Tacoma man needed emergency surgery after swallowing a bite of food with a unseen steel bristle. The man said it was likely from a steak he had eaten during a recent home barbecue.

Officials at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and Providence Regional Medical Center Everett said Wednesday that their emergency rooms haven’t seen any similar cases.

Sanderlin said he filed a detailed report with the Consumer Products Safety Commission on Wednesday about his wife’s incident. The federal agency is reviewing bristle injuries caused by metal grill brushes.

Sanderlin thinks that the metal bristles came from a barbecue cleaning brush they purchased about a month ago. “There’s a warning label that says it could lose bristles,” he said.

Sanderlin used some drippings from a recent cookout to add flavoring as he cooked an egg sandwich for his wife Wednesday morning. That was likely how the bristles ended up in the egg sandwich, he said.

The couple, who have been married 29 years, enjoy grilling, he said, cooking outdoors three times a week during the summer and at least once a week the rest of the year.

Sanderlin said he had just finished reading a newspaper account of the Tacoma man’s injury when his wife called to tell him that she had found a metal bristle in the roof of her mouth.

Both he and his wife said they’re concerned that the problem with the grill cleaning brushes may be more common than now thought.

“I imagine there are millions of them on the market by now,” he said.

Marks said she hopes that her story, and the recent incidents like it, will discourage people from using the grill cleaning brushes with metallic bristles. “We used to just use a scraper,” she said. “I think that’s what we’ll go back to.”

Sanderlin said he’s especially concerned for how an errant metal bristle could injure children.

Some of the metal bristles are curved and some are flat, he said. “By the time the parent figured out what was wrong, the child could really be in dire straits.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

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