We write about a lot of complex issues here at The Public's Health. Issues that seem intractable, such as implicit racial bias and poverty. Issues that are ethically challenging, such as organ donation. Issues that have serious implications for future generations, such as climate change and fracking. Such complexity is the domain of public health.

Some public health issues, however, are more straightforward. The relationship between cause and effect is clear, as are the preventive actions that can be taken. This Fourth of July weekend, we revisit one of these issues—swallowing the wire bristles of grill brushes.

On July 4th last year, we posted a story about the dangers of swallowing the bristles of wire brushes that are used to clean grills. The small, but exquisitely sharp, bristles come dislodged from the brushes, rest on the grill's surface, cling to food, and are ingested—potentially causing serious lacerations in the mouth, throat, and stomach.

Last year's story was promoted by a warning issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Our own fact finding mission revealed that there were quite a few case studies describing instances of patients being treated in hospitals for grill brush-related injuries, including one at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.

More cases have been identified over the past year. A Leigh Valley woman was injured by a grill bristle early last fall. A bristle was found to be the source of a Seattle girl's persistent aliments that had her doctors baffled. Twelve cases of grill bristle ingestion were identified at a Providence, Rhode Island hospital between 2009 and 2012. Three cases were identified at a Bronx, New York hospital.

Is the incidence of grill brush ingestion on the rise? Probably not—the increase in the number of cases identified can likely be attributed to the attention the CDC warning brought to the issues.  Nevertheless, the hazards associated with swallowing a grill bristle this Fourth of July weekend are quite real.

Check the surfaces of grills for wire bristles or other foreign objects you would rather not ingest before putting on the food. To be extra cautious, consider wiping the grill surface down with a cloth to make sure that any and all loose grill brush wires don't end up in your Fourth feasts.

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