Mine had a funny smell the first few times I used it - the food didn't have a funny flavor or smell to it, and nobody got sick from eating anything I made in it (beef jerky, banana chips, fruit leathers/rollups).
As for cleaning the heating element, IMHO I wouldn't. The metal is porous and it will give off a smell from whatever you use to clean it the next time you heat it up.
Like suziquzie said - I've never had a new appliance that didn't have a funny smell the first few times I used it.
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." - Mark Twain