Surgeons have renewed calls for a redesign of the humble bread bag clip, because the plastic jaws of the clip can easily lodge in the small intestine if accidentally swallowed.
The clips, which are used to tie the tops of bread bags throughout Australia, are the subject of a paper in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery.
Staff from the University of Adelaide's Discipline of Surgery highlight the case of a 47-year-old man who had been suffering abdominal pain for two months. A three-dimensional scan of his abdomen revealed a plastic bread clip inside his small intestine, but he had no memory of swallowing it.
Doctors initially hoped the clip would pass through, but the man's pain increased and he required surgery.
"We found that the jaws of the plastic clip had firmly wedged themselves into the wall of the small intestine, causing obstruction and swelling," says the Head of the Discipline of Surgery at the University of Adelaide, Professor Guy Maddern.
"There was evidence that the bread clip had previously latched onto another site within the intestine, had come free, and then caught onto a second location, where it stayed until we could remove it."
Professor Maddern says this is an uncommon but recurring problem.
"This isn't the first case we've seen – about eight years ago surgeons highlighted this as an issue because of previous cases of accidental swallowing and bowel obstruction, mainly in elderly patients," Professor Maddern says.
"There have been previous reports of gastrointestinal bleeding being caused by bread clips, and in rare cases there have been fatalities. So this can be a severe problem if not acted upon."
Professor Maddern says these cases highlight the need for doctors to take the swallowing of bread clips seriously to help prevent complications. "The public also needs to be aware that if bread bag clips are swallowed, they can be associated with serious health issues."
He says the bread clip is overdue for a redesign. "Given that most cases of accidentally swallowing bread clips occur in elderly patients, and we have an aging population, the food industry needs to cater for this and redesign the clips so they pose a reduced risk," Professor Maddern says.
"There was an impassioned appeal for this redesign over eight years ago, with no result, and cases are still occurring. It's time we revisited this issue," he says.
Professor Guy Maddern
Head, Discipline of Surgery
The University of Adelaide
Phone: +61 8 8222 6756
Mobile: +61 (0)418 444 620