Is a Rusty Barbecue Grill Safe to Use?

Written by matthew anderson
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Is a Rusty Barbecue Grill Safe to Use?
Rust easily forms on a grill that's exposed to the elements. (charcoal grill image by Jim Mills from

Many homeowners store barbecue grills outside all year long. Grill covers can keep the worst of the elements from damaging the grill, but they don't provide complete protection. Over time, even small amounts of water can cause a substantial amount of rust. A rusty barbecue grill poses several safety concerns.

Rust Ingestion

Rust ingestion is a small safety risk. Rust is iron oxide, and iron is a necessary part of the human diet. In excessive quantities -- 40.4 mg of iron for each pound of body weight -- it can be a health issue. But a significant amount of rust would have to be transferred from the grill to the food. This does not mean that eating food from a rusty barbecue is safe. The actual ingestion of iron itself, however, does not pose a major health risk.

Bacteria Growth

Rust itself does not pose a major safety risk, but it can contribute to a more serious problem, because it can promote bacterial growth. Rusty surfaces are full of pits and cracks that are barely visible. The wire brushes most commonly used for cleaning grills cannot remove food from these cracks. This leaves a source of bacteria, which can contaminate food placed on the grill if it is not thoroughly cooked.

Propane Tank Damage

The grilling surface is not the only part of a barbecue grill that can rust. Rust can form on the propane tank. This poses a significant safety hazard. The rust weakens the strength of the tank, which can eventually cause the tank to leak. The flammability of the propane in the tank makes this a major safety hazard. Rusty propane tanks should be replaced as soon as possible.

Structural Damage

Rusted metal is significantly weakened. Screws used to construct the grill can give way, causing the grill to come apart, collapse and possibly spread a fire.

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