Consumers Face Risk of Serious Injury or Death From Hand Sanitizers Packaged in Drink Bottles, Cans: FDA

In response to continuing concerns about hand sanitizer poisoning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, federal health officials are warning of the serious risks posed by several products sold in packaging that resembles water bottled, vodka, soda or other drinks, which may lead to accidental ingestion.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a hand sanitizer warning this August 27, citing newly received reports of consumers accidentally ingesting hand sanitizers that were packaged in food and drink containers.

In recent months, as demand for hand sanitizer has increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an influx of new hand sanitizer products have entered the U.S. market, some of which are now being confused for beverages or food.

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According to the FDA release officials have identified some topical hand sanitizer products are being packaged in beer cans, children’s food containers, water bottles, vodka bottles and even pouches that look like kids juice.

Agency investigators state that some of these products appear to look like normal food or drink for consumption, with some containing food flavors like chocolate or raspberry, which is likely to increase the chances of accidental consumption by children and adults.

Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn stated in the release that adding food flavoring and packaging alcohol-based hand sanitizers in food packaging is extremely dangerous and increases the risk of accidental ingestion, which could result in alcohol-poisoning and other serious and potentially fatal injuries.

Of the adverse events received, officials indicated one consumer purchased a bottle that was believed to be drinking water which was actually hand sanitizer. Several additional reports identified hand sanitizers liquids packaged in pouches that resembled juice boxes, and were marked with cartoon characters.

While no hand sanitizer products on the market are safe for consumption, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) and FDA have become aware of unfortunate misuses of hand sanitizers among some with alcohol problems, and continue to persistently receive thousands of calls per year to poison control centers for children accidentally ingesting the products due to their bright colors, with scents similar to food and candy, including some that contain glitter or fun characters on the bottles.

Hand Sanitizer Poisoning

The warning comes just weeks after the FDA rolled out a new hand sanitizer testing guidance on August 7, outlining a series or procedures for manufacturers to test for methanol, which is a wood alcohol that has been found in many imported hand sanitizers, which can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or potentially life threatening if ingested.

According to the CDC’s latest report, the agency has received at least 62 alcohol-based hand sanitizer-associated methanol poisoning cases from May 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020 nationwide. Of those, four patients died and three were left with visual impairments.

Methanol is often used to make fuel and antifreeze, but including it in hand sanitizer can cause side effects like headache, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, seizures, blindness, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system and death.

Health officials say while a child is able to lick or ingest a small amount of hand sanitizer from their hands without becoming sick, if they swallow even a dime-sized amount they will most likely experience alcohol poisoning that could result in confusion, vomiting, and drowsiness. In severe cases, they may suffer respiratory arrest, or even death.

In late July, the FDA issued a hand sanitizer recall warning calling for consumers to avoid more than 100 topical hand sanitizer products recalled due to the presence of methanol, or for failing to meet the 60% guideline of the active ingredients ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol to effectively kill germs.

The FDA and CDC recommend consumers always wash their hands with soap and water before using a topical hand sanitizer, as currently there is no scientific evidence it is a more effective means of killing germs over normal hand washing.

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