Wisconsin man swallows wire grill brush bristle; could have died

A popular grilling accessory sent a Kenosha man to the emergency room. Now, he’s warning others about the dangers of the product that could have killed him.

Even after eight days in the hospital, it’s impossible to keep Wayne Ramcheck away from his barbecue.

"I love grilling," Ramcheck told Contact 6, while grilling Cajun brats. "The food tastes so good on the grill." 


Wayne Ramcheck

Neighbors can spot him outside, tongs in hand, no matter the season.

"In the wintertime, I’ve had a foot of snow and I’m brushing it off (the grill)," said Ramcheck.

This spring, Ramcheck is doing one thing differently. He made the change after a life-threatening, literally gut-wrenching event that began at his grill.


Wayne Ramcheck

It began with a week of stomach pain. After the pain got worse and Ramcheck spiked a fever of 102 degrees, he checked into Froedtert South Hospital in February. A few days later, he underwent surgery.

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Surgeon Majed Jandali went looking for the source of Ramcheck’s pain. He found it in his small intestine.


Majed Jandali

"I just grabbed it with an instrument and it came out," said Jandali.

It was one inch long, thinner than a needle and pierced through the side of his intestine.


The surgeon had one question for Ramcheck after surgery: do you grill?

"I said, "yeah, I grill a lot." That’s when he said they removed a bristle," said Ramcheck. "One bristle that was causing hell."

It was a bristle from a wire grill brush that broke off, stuck to a grate and ended up in Ramcheck’s steak.

Ramcheck says until February, he used a wire brush to clean his grill. Even when used properly, the bristles can break off and become lodged in food. Ramcheck had no idea he’d swallowed one. The bristle was inside his body for two weeks.


Jandali had to remove four inches of Ramcheck’s intestine during the surgery. Ramcheck says his recovery took seven weeks.

Ramcheck still has the bristle, taped to the side of a jar. You almost have to squint to see the culprit that could have cost Ramcheck his life.

There are other reports of wire grill bristles becoming lodged in people’s mouths, esophagus, stomachs and respiratory tracts.

At the Barbecue Supply Company in Greendale, customers won’t find a single wire grill brush. Owner Mike Luce says he’s never carried the wire brushes because his friend swallowed a bristle.

"She had to go to the hospital and have it surgically removed from her throat," said Luce. "You’re running a risk (selling the brushes). There’s a liability."


Mike Luce

Luce says there are other options, such as brushes that use organic materials, steam or plastic bristles.

"We’ve found that the grate scrapes, the wooden paddles, are the safest and most effective," said Luce. "There’s nothing residual that’s gonna be left behind."

While at first reluctant, Ramcheck eventually returned to his grill with a different brush in hand. He showed Contact 6 how the brush uses steam to clean the hot grates.


Ramcheck says he wants wire grill brushes banned. At the very least, he wants to encourage others to throw theirs away.

"If it helps save somebody, one person, from going through what I went through, I feel good," said Ramcheck.

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Ramcheck says he’s back working at a local hardware store and doing "just fine."

Many wire grill brushes do come with warning tags. The tags say to throw the brushes away if loose or broken bristles are discovered, and to check surfaces before cooking.