Check hand sanitizer safety

Check hand sanitizers at www.fda.gov/handsanitizerlist (Courtesy photo)

Handwashing and using hand sanitizer are some of the specific measures that public health experts recommend to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. How­ever, with the explosion of the sale of hand sanitizer in response to the pandemic, companies who have not traditionally been producers of these products have jumped into the market in order to keep up with demand and take ad­vantage of the opportunity.

As with all supply chain-dependent products, however, ingredients have be­come scarce, and in some cases, substitutions have been made which are un­safe and untested.

The Food and Drug Ad­ministration has been is­suing warnings since the summer, alerting consu­mers to certain hand sanitizers that contain products which are considered toxic. While the recommendations from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Control have consistently stated that alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and those in a concentration of 70 percent or higher are most ef­fective in combatting COVID-19, some products have been shown to contain methanol, “a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested and can be life-threatening when inges­ted,” according to the FDA.

Methanol, when absorb­ed through the skin, is tox­ic to humans. There have even been cases reported of ad­ults and children in­gesting hand sanitizer, leading to blindness, hospitalization and death.

The FDA is also concern­ed about a recent de­vel­op­ment in hand sanitizer marketing whereby food and drink containers are being used for the sanitizer.

Said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. via a press release by the FDA, “I am increasingly concerned about hand sa­ni­tizer being packaged to ap­pear to be consumable products, such as baby food or beverages. These products could confuse consumers into accidentally ingesting a potentially deadly product. It’s dangerous to add scents with food flavors to hand sanitizers which children could think smells like food, eat and get alcohol poisoning.”

The FDA is warning consumers that it has found hand sanitizers are being packaged in beer cans, children’s food pouches, water bottles, juice bottles and vodka bottles. The FDA has also found hand sanitizers that contain food flavors, such as choco­late or raspberry and fears consumers, especially children, will confuse the items with food.

The FDA has been issuing steady warnings about contaminated hand sanitizers, and has ramped up testing of products to ferret out tox­ic ingredients. A recent discovery was of the substance 1-propanol in a hand sanitizer manufactured in Mexi­co. There are many types of alcohol used in consumer products.

However, only ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol (also known as 2-propan­ol) are acceptable alcohols in hand sanitizer. Oth­er types of alcohol, including metha­nol and 1-propanol, are not acceptable and can be toxic to humans. Also, some hand sanitizers to not contain the recommended level of alcohol deemed to be ef­fective in preventing the spread of the disease.

The FDA has issued a do not use list for hand sanitizers. Consumers can look up any hand sanitizer at www.fda.gov/handsanitizerlist. The list is updated regularly as new test re­sults are released by the FDA.

As of this writing, 203 hand sanitizers are on the list including those sold at companies such as Dollar Tree, Walmart, and Target. It is suggested to bookmark the list in your web browser so that you can check each hand sanitizer before using it. If a hand sanitizer you have is on the list, it is recommended to not use it and in­stead treat it like hazard­ous waste.

Do not flush or pour the product down the drain or mix it with other liquids. Since the FDA issued the list mid-summer and consistently updates it, retailers may have removed some of these recalled items from their shelves, though it is recommended consumers still check the list

Some retailers are starting take-back programs for these items and consumers should call their local stores.

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