Australian Man Swallows Metal Bristle from Barbecue Brush

Wire barbecue brush bristle injures man's pancreas; doctors warn people to 'grill with caution'


If you're thinking about busting out the barbecue before winter arrives, make sure your wire-bristle brush is still in good nick before using it to scrub down the grill.

Surgeons are warning of the potential dangers of loose wire bristles after a 39-year-old man on the New South Wales Coffs Coast accidentally swallowed one at a barbecue and had it pulled out of his pancreas more than a week later.

"This is the first case that has ever been reported in the world and it's in Australia," said Dr Rafael Gaszynski, the general surgery trainee who made the finding.

The unlucky patient had visited the Coffs Harbour emergency department three times with a vague abdominal pain that became extremely severe when he tried to eat something.

 The man remembered having a barbecue about a week before his first visit, but there was no obvious reason for his symptoms.

On each visit he was assessed, given painkillers, and eventually sent home; no-one suspected that an object could be embedded in his abdomen, let alone a wire brush bristle.

"Because it's such a rare occurrence, nobody really thought about it," Dr Gaszynski said.

It wasn't until the man's fourth emergency room visit that he was sent for a CT scan, which showed the metal barbecue brush bristle protruding from his duodenum — or the first part of his small intestine — into his pancreas.

Then, he was went to surgery.

"Initially I thought it was going to be a fish bone because that's what it looked like on the CT scan," Dr Gaszynski said.

"So I was looking for a white object, but then I saw this black thing which kind of surprised me.

"I went through and examined his intestines, his stomach, his oesophagus, and I then I went back to have a look at this black thing and I pulled it out ... to my surprise it was a barbecue bristle." 

'Grill with caution'

The patient, who was starting to wonder if he could be imagining the pain, was very relieved.

"When I showed him the bristle he was very relieved to see that he wasn't crazy and that he actually had something wrong with him," Dr Gaszynski said.


This is the first time a pancreatic injury from a barbecue bristle brush has been reported, but warnings about the barbecue utensil's risks have been issued in the US and Canada due to injuries in people's mouths and throats.

Last year a US study warned people to "grill with caution" after finding more than 1,600 reported cases of wire-bristle grill brush related injuries since 2012.

"Researchers advise individuals to inspect their food carefully after grilling or consider alternative grill-cleaning methods," the 2016 study from University of Missouri-Columbia said.

There are ways to avoid getting wire bristles in your food, such as:

  • Wiping a barbecue down before cooking food
  • Replacing bristle brushes regularly, and especially if it's warped, split, or clogged up with grease
  • Testing the brush by pulling at the bristles with moderate force. If the bristles come out, it's time for a new brush

"If you do eat something and you feel vague abdominal pain or a strange pain in your throat ... seek the emergency department and make sure that they do some x-rays or CT scans," Dr Gaszynski said.

His study, presented at the 86th Annual Scientific Congress of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) in Adelaide, has outlined how to look for and treat a gastrointestinal barbecue bristle injury for future reference.