The FDA has now recommended that 94 hand sanitizer products (and counting) need to be recalled. These products contain methanol, a toxic alternative to ethanol. Here’s what you need to know about this massive national recall.
Ethanol vs. Methanol
“The agency is aware of adults and children ingesting hand sanitizer products contaminated with methanol that has led to recent adverse events including blindness, hospitalizations and death.”
That’s from an FDA press release about this issue on July 2nd. Even though there’s just one letter’s difference between “ethanol” and “methanol,” the two are not interchangeable. Ethanol is safe to drink (responsibly, of course) and forms the “active” ingredient in liquor, wine, and beer. It is made from the fermentation of grains and sugars.
Methanol, on the other hand, is derived from wood, which is why you might see it labeled as “wood alcohol.”
Consuming methanol is very, very bad for humans. The FDA is now reporting at least 8 deaths nationwide from drinking contaminated hand sanitizer. While most of us probably won’t pick up a bottle of sanitizer the next time we get thirsty, it’s a risk to children, people with dementia, and people struggling with alcohol dependency.
Even if you don’t drink it, however, methanol can still be toxic when absorbed through the skin. If you’re using a product containing methanol on a regular basis to disinfect your skin, then you could be accidentally poisoning yourself.
According to the FDA, “substantial methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death.”
Is Your Hand Sanitizer on the List?
Unfortunately, you can’t tell if a product contains methanol just from the labeled ingredients. Earlier this month, the FDA revealed that products labeled as containing ethanol tested positive for methanol contamination. Some products only contained 1%, but some had up to 80%.
Your best bet is to skip the alcohol-based sanitizer in favor of washing your hands with antibacterial soap. If that’s not an option, then check your stash of hand sanitizer against the list compiled by the FDA.
The list is quite long, and we aren’t able to copy the entire thing here. You can check it out at the FDA website. The agency now recommends that you do not use hand sanitizers made by the companies on this list, regardless of lot number or date code. These products were widely distributed across the country, including at major retailers like Target and Walmart.