FDA Says Hand Sanitizers Should Be Made 'Unpalatable' to People to Prevent Ingestion

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is urging manufacturers to make hand sanitizers "unpalatable" to prevent people drinking it, the agency announced Monday.

The call follows a surge in companies registering to produce hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic, as businesses from alcohol distillers to oil and gas multinationals seek to address soaring demand.

There has also been a spike in poisoning cases. According to the FDA, the National Poison Data System received 79 percent more calls related to hand sanitizer in March 2020 than the same period last year. The majority of cases involved children aged 5 and younger.

"It is important that hand sanitizer be manufactured in a way that makes them unpalatable to people, especially young children, and that they are appropriately labeled to discourage accidental or intentional ingestion," FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. said Monday.

Hahn also stressed that hand sanitizers are not proven to treat COVID-19 and as with any product designed for external use, are "not for ingestion, inhalation, or intravenous use."

The FDA highlighted an incident involving a 13-year-old, who drank hand sanitizer after it had been packaged in a liquor bottle by a distiller. According to reports, the liquid tasted like "normal drinking alcohol" due to the fact that the product had not been denatured—a process that involves adding denaturants to hand sanitizer to make it taste bitter and therefore, less appealing.

"While the agency understands the economic and business reasons behind foregoing this step in the manufacturing process, such an approach undermines the agency's mission of helping to ensure the safety of FDA-regulated products for consumer use, which is the FDA's top priority," the statement reads.

"This approach is consistent with the FDA's policies prior to the COVID-19 pandemic on including denatured alcohol in hand sanitizer and is even more important now as more consumers rely on its use as a mitigation tool against the deadly virus."

According to the FDA, poison control centers recieve hundreds of calls related to ingestion of hand sanitizers, which can cause a number of adverse health effects—including death.

The agency is also urging companies to steer clear of bogus claims and false promises, citing one company that claims to sell a product that can "protect you from pathogens up to 24 hours or for 10 hand washes."

A letter was issued to the manufacturer, Prefense, who claimed their product was like wearing "an invisible glove" and could protect consumers from germs for an entire day with just one application. The FDA said it is unaware of evidence that hand sanitizer can protect people for this long or after multiple hand-washings.

"These types of claims may put consumers at risk by leading to a false sense of security and resulting in infrequent hand washing or hand sanitizing," it stated.

Stock image of hand sanitizer
Stock image of hand sanitizer. The FDA is calling on companies to make hand sanitizer products less palatable as more than 1,500 additional manufacturers register to produce hand sanitizer. Maridav/iStock

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease in December 2019, there has been spike for hand sanitizer products. According to Fior Market Research LLP, global demand increased 1,400 percent between December 2019 and February 2020.

Despite its popularity, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states hand washing with plain soap and water is the best way to reduce the spread of disease. If soap and water is unavailable, the CDC recommends using hand sanitizers with 60 percent ethanol and 70 percent isopropanol.

According to the CDC: "Hand washing mechanically removes pathogens, while laboratory data demonstrate that 60 percent ethanol and 70 percent isopropanol, the active ingredients in CDC-recommended alcohol-based hand sanitizers, inactivates viruses that are genetically related to, and with similar physical properties as, the 2019-nCoV."

The below infographic from Statista shows the states with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 28, 2020 1:30 EST.

statista, covid19, coronavirus
A graph showing the countries with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19. Statista

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.