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Wire Brushes Present Hidden Grilling Danger

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Ginger Allen
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CARROLLTON (CBSDFW.COM) - Before you begin your backyard grilling, CBS 11 News has uncovered a danger that you may be cooking up. It’s not about the meat, and it’s not about any food-borne illness. CBS 11 News investigates a growing problem that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is leaving up to manufacturers to regulate.

In North Texas, the sound of sizzling means that summer is here. It’s that same sound that calls the McMahon family of Carrollton outside for some quality time around the grill. “[It's] something we like to do in the summer,” said 21-year old Matt McMahon.

When you barbeque, you usually only worry about bacteria and other food-related illnesses. But it was something entirely different that sent McMahon to the emergency room. “We were grilling out, cooking burgers, and obviously the last bite, something stuck in the throat,” he said.

It was hours before they realized what it was — a 1.5-centimeter wire bristle from the wire brush that his dad had used to clean the grill. “You can see bristles coming all out,” McMahon said while examining a picture of the brush.

picture 003 Wire Brushes Present Hidden Grilling Danger

(credit: Matt McMahon)

Dr. Mark Bickert from Baylor Medical Center in Carrollton operated on McMahon. “I can only liken this to a needle in a haystack,” he said. “The wire bristle [was] actually lodged inside of the muscle of the esophagus.”

It took Dr. Bickert four hours to remove the wire from McMahon’s throat. “We yelled out to the rest of the operating room staff, ‘We have it! We have it!'” he said. “It’s probably more common than what we’re aware of.”

He’s right! CBS 11 News has learned that, in the last three years, nearly a dozen people have reported similar problems to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. There was even another case here in North Texas.

wire2 Wire Brushes Present Hidden Grilling Danger

(credit: Deborah Bickert/Lone Star Ear, Nose & Throat Care)

“I felt it, but I didn’t know what it was,” said Mike Matus, a captain with the Richardson Fire Department. He took a bite of a burger 12 years ago, and felt the same sensation — sort of like a fish bone caught in his throat. The next day, when it didn’t go away, he went to the hospital and was shocked to hear the news. “It went through the esophagus and stuck in the wall of my heart,” Matus said.

Matus said that he doesn’t remember seeing any warning labels on grill brushes back then, but things have changed. CBS 11 News checked inside several local stores and found that most brushes now come with warnings to check for loose or detached bristles. However, Matus said, more needs to be done to protect those of us who love to grill. “Somebody needs to look at it,” he said.

011 9 Wire Brushes Present Hidden Grilling Danger

(credit: Matt McMahon)

As for McMahon, the whole experience hasn’t scared him much. In fact, it’s helped him make a big decision about his future. He’s hoping to go to medical school to become a surgeon.

“Do you think there’s any chance you’ll take a wire bristle out of someone’s throat someday?” CBS 11 News reporter Ginger Allen asked.

“It’s possible,” McMahon said. “It’d kind of be one of those out of body experiences. ‘Hey, this happened to me before, I know what to do.'”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission said that there are now mandatory standards with regards to warnings on grill brushes. It’s up to the individual companies to include a warning on their product. Meanwhile, both families we talked to stopped using brushes all together, and now recommend using special stones or pads to clean your grills.

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