The Food and Drug Administration has expanded the list of hand sanitizers — some sold at Costco and other national chains — being recalled to at least 75 recently, saying toxic levels of wood alcohol in them can cause injury or death.
The FDA said that there has been an increase in hand sanitizers that are labeled to contain ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, but have tested positive for methanol, or wood alcohol. If methanol is absorbed through the skin, it can cause blindness and hospitalizations, or death if ingested.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials have continuously urged Americans to wash their hands for 20 seconds at a time or to use hand sanitizer to protect against exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease. The demand for hand sanitizer has surged and questionable new brands have made their way to store shelves across the United States.
“Unfortunately, there are some companies taking advantage of the increased usage of hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic and putting lives at risk by selling products with dangerous and unacceptable ingredients. Consumers and health care providers should not use methanol-containing hand sanitizers,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in a statement.
Peter Pitts, former FDA associate commissioner and president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, said selling these hand sanitizers is “like selling an unapproved drug.”
The products wind up on store shelves because companies are skirting around the usual steps that ensure product safety, he said.
“When you’re in a large company or a small company and you’re buying products in bulk, as sanitizer is purchased, you want to understand the provenance of that product — where it was manufactured, whether or not it’s been approved under good manufacturing standards brought by the FDA — and clearly that was simply ignored,” he said.
The FDA first warned about nine products made in Mexico in June. Since then, dozens more have been added to the list. The FDA listed an import alert on a number of hand sanitizers to stop the products from entering the U.S., including:
Klar and Danver Instant Hand Sanitizer (labeled with Greenbrier International)
Modesa Instant Hand Sanitizer Moisturizers and Vitamin E
Hello Kitty by Sanrio Hand Sanitizer
For the complete list, go to FDA hand sanitizer updates at /www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-updates-hand-sanitizers-methanol
“We’re up to six deaths now, and two people with permanent blindness and awaiting outcomes on another one or two patients,” said Dr. Brandon Warrick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends consumers use alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent ethyl alcohol (ethanol), which should be clearly labeled on the container. It’s not advised to add alcohol to a non-alcohol hand sanitizer.
Both experts advise consumers to check the FDA’s regularly updated list for dangerous hand sanitizers before buying an unknown brand.