Hazardous hand sanitizer being sold at U.S. stores, FDA warns

The FDA has issued a warning about dangerous hand sanitizers that contain poison. The agency says there’s been a sharp increase in products that test positive for the toxic contaminant methanol.

Medical experts say it's likely the hand sanitizer most people have in their medicine cabinets is completely safe, which is good news considering it's in high use due to COVID-19. However, an alert put out by the FDA this week says at least 13 hand sanitizers made in Mexico could be dangerous and should not be used.

Ethanol is the ingredient in hand sanitizer that kills germs. Recently, the FDA reports a spike in hand sanitizers labeled to contain ethanol but testing positive for methanol contamination.

“So methanol is just a different type of alcohol than ethanol, but it’s poisonous, it is not safe,” said Dr. Juan Dumois with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Methanol is also known as wood alcohol and is often used to make fuel and antifreeze. It can be absorbed through the skin but does even more damage if it is ingested. It is not an approved ingredient in hand sanitizer.

“Methanol is very toxic to the body and can cause some significant problems,” Dumois said. “I once saw a child with methanol poisoning who went blind from it, so blindness is one of the possible complications of it.”

Methanol poisoning can also lead to death.

So far, 13 hand sanitizers all made in Mexico have been flagged by the FDA for potentially posing a threat. The agency is urging people to be cautious because some of the products can still be found for sale.

“Hand sanitizers are still a very good way of disinfecting your hands,” said Dumois. “I think that we can assume that most hand sanitizers are safe.”

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Included on that list of safe hand sanitizer are ones being made in the Bay Area by Motorworks Brewing and Dark Door Spirits.

Motorworks Brewing knows a lot about beer but these days they’re also in the hand sanitizer market. The Bradenton business teamed up with Dark Door Spirits and now transforms their best selling beer into ethanol

“The FDA sent out a specific recipe, if you will, and essentially the biggest part of it is having high proof alcohol, which is what you’re doing naturally through the distillation process,” explained Barry Elwonger with Motorworks Brewing. “You have that high proof alcohol and you’re just going to add the other components of that recipe, and now you have hand sanitizer, and its medical-grade."

For more information on the FDA's warning, visit www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-updates-hand-sanitzers-methanol.

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