Barbecue lovers are once again being warned to check their wire grill cleaning brushes for loose bristles, after a six-year-old Ontario boy had to be hospitalized from a bristle injury.

Nadia Cerelli says a backyard barbecue earlier this summer quickly become a medical emergency. She served her son, Anthony, a burger from her grill and soon after, he began telling her he felt like he had a needle in his throat.

“He complained of pain in his throat. He wasn’t able to swallow his own saliva,” she told CTV Toronto.

Anthony was taken to hospital where he had to undergo surgery so doctors could remove the tiny wire bristle.

“It is so small and tiny to the naked eye, that even for a specialist to find it and grab it, it wasn’t that easy,” Cerelli says.

Old, worn out wire brushes will eventually start to lose their bristles. When they do, the bristles can stick to the grill where they can be easily missed since they are so small. They will then stick to food, and if ingested, can cause injuries in the mouth, throat or tonsils.

A study earlier this year from the University of Missouri School of Medicine identified close to 1,700 injuries from wire-bristle grill brushes reported in U.S. emergency rooms since 2002. The authors of that study said that their numbers were likely an underestimate of the problem, and called wire brush bristle injuries a growing health concern.

Cerelli says that after what happened to her son, she will no longer use a wire brush to clean her grill, and has switched over to cleaning pads. She doesn’t think anyone else should use them either.

“I think these brushes shouldn’t be on the market; they should be banned. They’re quite dangerous,” she said.

If you choose to use a wire brush, there are several things you can do to keep it in good condition:

• Inspect the brush each time you use it and look for loose bristles. If the bristles look worn down or clogged with grease, replace it.

• If the brush looks ok, grill maker Weber suggests taking a pair of pliers and tugging on a bristle about as hard as you would pull on a blade of grass. If the bristle comes out, it’s a sign it’s time to replace it.

• After scrubbing with a brush, wipe the grill with a damp cloth to get rid of any loose bristles that may have been missed.

• Don’t leave your brush outdoors, since it will wear down faster when exposed to the elements.

• If you’d prefer to ditch the brush altogether, there are nylon and stainless steel pads, and scrubbing blocks available too.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Pat Foran