FDA tells hand sanitizer producers to make it unpalatable after surge in poison control calls

Using denatured alcohol would make it more bitter and less appealing to ingest, FDA says

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The Food and Drug Administration is calling on hand sanitizer manufacturers to make sure the gooey alcohol-based substance is "unpalatable" after a surge of poisonings were reported across the country during COVID-19.

The FDA's announcement came after 1,500 manufacturers, including many distillers, registered with the agency to meet the demand for the critical product that's been flying off the shelves since the outbreak began.

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"We appreciate industry's willingness to help supply alcohol-based hand sanitizer to the market to meet the increasing demand for these products and are grateful for their efforts," said Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, FDA commissioner. "It is important that hand sanitizer 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."

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The National Poison Data System (NPDS) saw a 79 percent increase in calls related to hand sanitizer in March compared to March 2019, with the majority of calls for children 5 years of age and younger.

It only takes ingesting a "small amount" of hand sanitizer to be harmful and potentially lethal in young children, the agency cautioned.

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Although health officials can't prove the pandemic drove the increase, they have noted that it seems likely the two are linked, given the number of stay-at-home orders and guidance to clean hands and dirty surfaces.

"NPDS data do not provide information showing a definite link between exposures and COVID-19 cleaning efforts, there appears to be a clear temporal association with increased use of these products," the CDC said.

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Adding denaturants to the alcohol would make it more bitter and less appealing to ingest, especially for young children, the FDA says.

While the FDA continues to ensure the safe supply of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, the agency reiterated that the products have not been proven to treat COVID-19 and are meant for external use as an added protection.

The agency also called for proper labeling and warnings to keep the product out of the reach of children.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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