FDA Import Alert hand sanitizer from Mexico test for toxic ingredients

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A health worker dispenses hand sanitizer in Leon, Mexico.

Leopoldo Smith | Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration set an import alert for alcohol-based hand sanitizers imported from Mexico after tests found more than half of the products contained “dangerous levels” of toxic ingredients, including methanol and 1-propanal.

As part of the import alarm announced on Tuesday, the hand disinfectants are subject to intensified FDA testing. Shipments that violate FDA regulations can be suspended altogether, the agency said. This is the first time the FDA has issued a nationwide import alert for a category of drugs.

“Actions today are needed to protect the safe supply of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. We will continue to work with our stakeholders to ensure the availability of safe products and to communicate important information related to the health and safety of US consumers,” he said Judy McMeekin, FDA assistant commissioner for regulatory affairs.

Methanol is potentially toxic when absorbed through the skin and can be fatal if ingested, according to the FDA. The imported products were labeled as containing ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, but tests confirmed the contamination with methanol.

Tests conducted by the FDA found that 84% of the samples analyzed from April to December 2020 were in violation of FDA regulations and more than half contained toxic substances in amounts dangerous for human consumption. Symptoms of exposure can include vomiting, seizures, blindness, central nervous system effects, as well as hospitalization and death, with young children being most at risk, the agency said.

The FDA urged consumers who believe they have been exposed to contaminated hand sanitizer and experience symptoms to see a doctor immediately.