The U.S. Memorial Day weekend ushers in the start of the summer grilling season but  University of Missouri School of Medicine wants to throw some cold water on your flames - by warning the public about the dangers of cleaning with wire-bristle brushes.

Coupled with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declaring hot dogs as hazardous to your health as plutonium, grilling food just got a lot less fun - unless you have any critical thinking.

But hazard is not risk and the University of Missouri is scare-mongering about something that has happened 1,600 times since 2002. That means there is a 1,000 percent greater chance you will hurt yourself in the pool than get a loose wire bristle in any food and a 200 percent greater chance you will be struck by lightning.

"Wire-bristle brush injuries are a potential consumer safety issue, so it is important that people, manufacturers and health providers be aware of the problem," said David Chang, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology at the MU School of Medicine. "If doctors are unaware that this problem exists, they may not order the appropriate tests or capture the correct patient history to reach the right diagnosis."

If the giant bristle stuck in your inner cheek does not tell the doctor what is wrong, get a new doctor.

To find something topical to scaremonger about, Chang reviewed consumer injury databases to determine the number of emergency department visits caused by wire-bristle injuries between 2002 and 2014. He observed that 1,698 injuries were reported by emergency departments in that time. The most common injuries reported were in patients' oral cavities, throats and tonsils, with a few injuries requiring surgery.

"One little bristle unrecognized could get lodged in various areas of the body, whether in the throat, tonsil or neck region," Chang said. "If the bristle passes through those regions without lodging itself, it could get stuck further downstream in places like the esophagus, stomach or the intestine. The biggest worry is that it will lodge into those areas and get stuck in the wall of the intestine. The bristles could migrate out of the intestine and cause further internal damage."

Chang said that the number of injuries found from wire-bristle brushes might be larger than his 1,698 estimate, since his study did not include injuries treated at urgent care facilities or other outpatient settings. This data could lead to better protective measures from individuals and wire-bristle brush manufacturers, he said.

Chang recommends the following tips for individuals this grilling season:

  1. Use caution when cleaning grills with wire-bristle brushes, examining brushes before each use and discarding if bristles are loose.

  2. Inspect your grill's cooking grates before cooking, or use alternative cleaning methods such as nylon-bristle brushes or balls of tin foil.

  3. Inspect grilled food carefully after cooking to make sure bristles are not stuck to the food.

If you bite into metal, do not swallow. It's the wrong kind of fiber. 

The study, "Epidemiology of Wire-Bristle Grill Brush Injury in the United States, 2002-2014," recently was published in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Top image: Shutterstock.