Hand sanitiser
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is asking hand sanitiser producers to make it taste bitter so people don't eat it.
  • More than 1,500 American companies have stepped up to produce hand sanitiser during the pandemic.
  • Calls to the National Poison Data System last month related to hand sanitiser increased by 79% compared to March 2019.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.


Last month, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received a report that a 13-year-old consumed hand sanitiser packaged in a liquor bottle by a distiller.

The alcohol wasn't denatured, so it tasted like regular drinking liquor, according to the FDA.

Now the agency is asking US companies to make sure that their sanitisers taste disgusting.

"It is important that hand sanitiser 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 said in a statement.

Companies around the country, many of them distilleries, have switched gears to meet a demand for hand sanitiser during the coronavirus pandemic, including the makers of Klipdrift and the Spier winery in South Africa.

In the US more than 1,500 new companies have registered with the FDA to produce the cleanser in the past few months.

See also | The SA govt just doubled what it’s willing to pay for sanitiser – but body bags will be cheaper

In response to the more flexible temporary FDA rules that are aimed at meeting the demand for sanitisers, American industry leaders and congressional members have reached out to the FDA over the need for companies to use denatured alcohol for their sanitisers.

Hand sanitiser helps fight the coronavirus, but young children have been ingesting it

The number of calls made last month to America's National Poison Data System last related to hand sanitiser increased by 79% compared to March 2019, the statement said. Most of the calls involved unintentional exposures in children 5-years-old and younger.

Ingesting even a small amount of hand sanitiser can be fatal for young children, according to the FDA.

"Adding denaturants to the alcohol renders the product more bitter and less appealing to ingest, particularly for young children," the FDA said in a statement. "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."

In addition to how the sanitiser is made, the agency is also reminding businesses to make sure their bottles are in compliance with regulations.

The agency has also found some companies making false claims about what the cleanser can do.

It sent a warning letter to Prefense LLC for selling its product with claims it could protect users from germs "with just one application per day."

The company's webpage also states that Prefense can, "protect you from pathogens up to 24 hours or for 10 hand washes," according to the FDA.

"The FDA is not aware of any evidence that hand sanitizer products can protect consumers for 24 hours or after multiple hand-washings," the statement said. "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."

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