FDA Warns Hand Sanitizers Imported From Mexico Contain Toxic Unlisted Ingredients

File photo of a discarded mask during the covid-19 pandemic.
File photo of a discarded mask during the covid-19 pandemic.
Photo: Odd Andersen (Getty Images)

The Food and Drug Administration has issued an unprecedented alert, warning that Americans are being poisoned by a long list of hand sanitizers imported from Mexico during the covid-19 pandemic. More than 900 Americans have reportedly been poisoned this month alone, according to figures obtained by CBS News.

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Some of the offending hand sanitizer products from Mexico, which list ethanol on the ingredients list, actually contain methanol, a substance that can be toxic when rubbed on the skin and even fatal if it’s ingested. Others had ethanol in concentrations far too high to be considered safe.

A whopping 84% of all hand sanitizers from Mexico that the FDA tested between April and December of 2020 were found to not be in compliance with the health agency’s standards. More than half had toxic ingredients not listed on the bottle, leading the FDA to start inspecting imports more closely.

As the FDA notes in a press release this week, this is the first time the FDA has put out a countrywide import alert for a product in a single category like this.

From the FDA alert:

Methanol-contaminated hand sanitizers are a serious safety concern, and the FDA is aware of adverse events, including blindness, cardiac effects, effects on the central nervous system and hospitalizations and death, primarily reported to poison control centers and state departments of health. Methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death. Although people using these products on their hands are at risk for methanol poisoning, young children who ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol substitute are most at risk.

“Consumer use of hand sanitizers has increased significantly during the coronavirus pandemic, especially when soap and water are not accessible, and the availability of poor-quality products with dangerous and unacceptable ingredients will not be tolerated,” Judy McMeekin, FDA Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, said in a statement this week.

How do you know if your hand sanitizer is safe? The FDA is maintaining a list of all the hand sanitizers it’s identified as containing toxic ingredients. The fact that it currently contains 226 entries and is too long to list here tells you just how big of a problem this appears to be.

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

DISCUSSION

Sooo... we used an entire bottle of one of the methanol tainted products on this list. What do I do now...

I knew it would be on the list too. The brand was called “Next” and was sold at our local grocery store during the height of the sanitizer shortage. It was the worst smelling hand sanitizer I’ve ever used. Smelled like gasoline soaked deli meat and garbage that had been pooped by a baby.