FDA watching for dangerous hand sanitizers

Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
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A booming product during the COVID-19 pandemic has been hand sanitizer, for its obvious use against spreading germs of the virus, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is on the lookout for specific alcohol-based sanitizers that can be dangerous due to a presence of methanol or wood alcohol.

That substance is often used to create fuel and antifreeze that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin as well as life-threatening when ingested, according to the FDA. The agency has a list of flagged hand sanitizers by the FDA with manufacturers and distributors listed. They also have taken action to help prevent certain hand sanitizers from entering the U.S. by placing them on import alert

The FDA also is proactively working with manufacturers to recall products and is encouraging retailers to remove products from store shelves and online marketplaces. Reportedly, the brands Born Basic and Scent Theory are being recalled from Walmart and Target stores.

The Mexico City-based manufacturer Eskbiochem S.A. de C.V. also has been issued a warning letter from the FDA for distributing product with undeclared methanol and unapproved claims.

The FDA began looking into the hand sanitizer issue in June, following up with more warnings this month, seeing an increasing number of adverse events, including blindness, cardiac effects, effects on the central nervous system, and hospitalizations and death, primarily reported to poison control centers and state departments of health. The agency continues to see these figures rise.

"Practicing good hand hygiene, which includes using alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available, is an important public health tool for all Americans to employ. Consumers must also be vigilant about which hand sanitizers they use, and for their health and safety we urge consumers to immediately stop using all hand sanitizers on the FDA's list of dangerous hand sanitizer products," said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. "We remain extremely concerned about the potential serious risks of alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing methanol. Producing, importing and distributing toxic hand sanitizers poses a serious threat to the public and will not be tolerated. The FDA will take additional action as necessary and will continue to provide the latest information on this issue for the health and safety of consumers."

Over the past few months, several manufacturers have been pivoting manufacturing within their plants to help make more hand sanitizer, often for private label, to help keep up with demand. Sales of hand sanitizer have been at astronomical levels this year, by the end of April sales were up 421% year over year, consistently up near 250% during the pandemic period, per Nielsen.