Tepid potato salad left out in the sun is nothing next to the bristles on your grill brush when it comes to a holiday weekend’s biggest health threats.
Here, six of the strangest case reports that, take it from us, you don’t want to make a part of your Memorial Day celebrations.
1. You can ingest bristles from your grill brush
The heavy-duty brushes used to scrub grills until they’re squeaky clean can leave metal bristles stuck to the grates. Add a burger or corn cob to that mix, and it’s not pretty. Dozens of people have reported to ERs after swallowing a grill brush bristle. The cases seem to spike in June, July, and August, during the peak of barbecue season. The wires can poke a hole in a person’s esophagus or cause digestive problems if they make it to the stomach.
2. Flies do throw up on your fruit salad
It’s difficult to know what exactly house flies are doing at any given time. But they sure do like to land on hot dog buns and fruit salads at a neighborhood cookout. House flies stick out a part of their body called the labella when they land on a potential meal — think of it as taking a free sample. If they decide to chow down on a watermelon, for example, they’ll regurgitate a little of that sample on the watermelon, along with some acid to make their next few bites easier to digest.
3. High-tech tenderizers can seed your burger with bacteria
That prime rib you pick at the store can sometimes come pre-tenderized. That’s done by puncturing the meat with tiny blades or needles to break down the fibers. But those needles can have an unintended side effect: If bacteria like E. coli are present on the outside — where they’d normally be killed off by the heat of a grill — the machine’s robotic needles can push that bacteria to the middle. That doesn’t mix well with a rare steak — it gives bacteria a new opportunity to make people sick. A new US Department of Agriculture rule rolled out this week requires companies to label when meat has been mechanically tenderized. To bacteria-proof your mechanically tenderized meat, the agency recommends cooking it to an internal temperature of 145 degrees and letting it rest for three minutes after cooking.
4. Skewers aren’t just for meat and veggies
It seems the skewers usually brought out to pop food on the grill aren’t just being stuck through peppers, onions, and chicken. Doctors have reported — more than once, I might add — incidents of people being skewered with the sharp sticks. Don’t fool around when the forks come out, people.
5. Barbecues and tents don’t mix
Grilling out is great, but the key to getting it right — and not ending up with carbon monoxide poisoning — is actually being outside. In a 2004 report published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, doctors describe patients who presented with carbon monoxide poisoning because they’d attempted to grill a meal inside a tent.
6. Chlorine can eat your teeth
Check a pool’s chlorine content before you cannonball in this holiday weekend. Apparently, repeated exposure to too much chlorine can wear away the enamel on a person’s teeth and cause permanent damage. One woman who swam in a highly chlorinated pool in Cuba every day for two weeks lost nearly all of the enamel in her teeth, according to a 2008 case report.
Happy holiday weekend, everyone — may the flies be few and the skewers be safe, and may you never be this person.