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Sweeping changes? Barbecue brushes could be in for an overhaul because of dangerous bristles

Statistics show they cause just 0.0015 per cent of all emergency department admissions but, for safety reasons, wire-bristle barbecue brushes used on grills across the country could be in for an overhaul.

On Wednesday, commissioned by Health Canada, the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) began the task of implementing a new minimum standard for the tools. The move follows cases that involved people accidentally ingesting dangerous bristles that had come loose from brushes, stuck to grills and ended up in food.

“Health Canada is aware of incidents of wire barbecue brush bristles coming loose and, in some cases, being ingested, causing serious health problems,” Health Canada spokesperson Sindy Souffront said by email.

Last year, Health Canada decided not to ban wire-bristle brushes, but identified 28 injuries they had reportedly caused since 2004. Health Canada reported at that point it had received nine reports of injuries since 2011, but the SCC now says there were nine incidents in 2017 alone.

With recalls ruled out and no fool-proof way to determine which brushes pose the most risk, Health Canada has instead asked the SCC to develop guidelines for new products.

In a request for proposals (RFP) filed Wednesday, bidders are invited to submit proposals to work on the development of a national standard. The Retail Council of Canada will also be involved.

The successful bidder would “provide guidance on the manufacture, sale and use of barbecue brushes, including metal bristle brushes; and define the characteristics of the tool, and include minimum specifications for materials, construction, labelling and testing procedures,” the RFP says, with the SCC adding that recent injuries have created “an outcry for action to protect the consumer.”

The deadline for submissions is May 15, and the SCC says it will expect the new guidelines a maximum of 18 months from the contract award date.


In the meantime, Health Canada wants people to regularly inspect brushes for signs of damage, and replace them regularly.

Only SCC-accredited standards development organizations can bid on the RFP, but the standard, when it arrives, is expected to be non-binding.

“In Canada, the use of standards is voluntary unless they are referenced in regulation,” SCC spokesperson Nadine James said by email. “Although SCC works with federal and provincial regulators, we do not have the mandate to create or enforce regulations.”

James said an estimated cost for the project “will not be determined until the RFP process is completed.”

Kim Schellenberg, who landed in hospital after accidentally swallowing a barbecue brush bristle.

Kim Schellenberg of Red Deer, Alta., told the Canadian Press she unintentionally swallowed a wire bristle from a cheap brush in 2014.

“Hearing that yes, they’re going to continue to look at this, it’s good to know that the wheel is turning, even if it is slowly,” she said.

Her painful ordeal resulted in several CT scans and surgeries to locate the bristle lodged in her throat, which eventually passed on its own.

She said she was “flabbergasted” to discover last year that barbecue brushes are unregulated in Canada and was “over-the-top angry” at Health Canada’s initial lack of action.

In October 2017, citing stats gathered by the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program between 2011 and 2017, the government said barbecue brush injuries account for 1.5 per 100,000 reported emergency department cases.

The majority of injuries happen when bristles get lodged in respiratory or digestive tracts, but eye injuries have also happened.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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