FDA warning about hand sanitizers packaged like food and drinks has experts alarmed: 'This is super scary'


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued yet another warning about hand sanitizer safety. This time, the agency is warning consumers to be wary about alcohol-based hand sanitizer that’s packaged in food and drink containers.

According to the warning, these sanitizers are being packaged in beer cans, children’s food pouches, water bottles, juice bottles and vodka bottles. The FDA has also discovered hand sanitizers that contain food flavors like chocolate or raspberry.

“I am increasingly concerned about hand sanitizer being packaged to appear to be consumable products, such as baby food or beverages. These products could confuse consumers into accidentally ingesting a potentially deadly product,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn said in a statement. Hahn said it’s “dangerous” to add food-scented flavors to hand sanitizers and could mislead children into thinking that the sanitizers are actually food.

The warning also said the FDA received a report that a person bought a bottle that they thought was full of water, only to discover that it was hand sanitizer. Another report the FDA received was from a retailer that said they saw a hand sanitizer product marketed with cartoons for children that was in a pouch that looked like a snack.

The FDA also said that it has seen an “increasing number of adverse events with hand sanitizer ingestion, including cardiac effects, effects on the central nervous system, hospitalizations, and death.”

Why is this so dangerous?

Most people know that ingesting hand sanitizer is dangerous, but it does happen. And, if it’s packaged like food, it could raise the risk even more, Jamie Alan, an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Life.

“This is super scary,” Dr. Gina Posner, a board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. She’s seen patients in the past who have accidentally consumed disinfectants that were being stored in water bottles. “Kids can get really sick and sometimes even die because they drank something that they thought was water and it was Windex, or something similar,” she says.

Posner says she “doesn’t understand the reasoning” behind why hand sanitizer would be packaged this way. “It definitely can lead to a lot of accidental ingestion, especially since some of the sanitizers smell really fruity and fresh, like something you would drink,” she says.

Dr. John Brancato, an emergency medicine physician at Connecticut Children’s, tells Yahoo Life that this is a “high-risk problem, like detergent ‘pods’ made to look like toys or candy.”

Hand sanitizer “may contain ingredients that are OK to apply to the skin, but might be toxic when ingested,” Alan says. While the ingredients in hand sanitizer vary “they usually contain a high amount of ethanol,” a form of alcohol, Alan says, noting that “sometimes these are made with isopropyl alcohol, too.” Sanitizers can also contain coloring, fragrance, aloe, vitamin E and other ingredients, she says.

If an adult ingests hand sanitizer, they may suffer from side effects like an upset stomach, nausea and diarrhea, Alan says. And, in severe cases, if someone ingests large amounts, they could die, Alan says.

Hand sanitizer consumption is especially concerning with children, Brancato says. If just a tiny amount is consumed, a child may experience burning in the mouth and throat, he says. But anything other than that “could be serious,” he says.

Posner recommends storing your hand sanitizer out of reach of small children. But, if you discover that your child has consumed hand sanitizer, she recommends calling 911 immediately.

The FDA said agency officials will continue to monitor the situation.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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Originally published