FDA Urges Manufacturers to Make Hand Sanitizer ‘Less Palatable,’ as Poisoning Reports Surge

April 28, 2020 Updated: April 28, 2020

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday called on hand sanitizer manufacturers to make the substance less palatable by adding denatured alcohol to them, after reports of poisonings surged last month across the United States.

In a bid to discourage people, particularly young children, from ingesting the liquid, the regulator advised manufactures to add denatured alcohol to hand sanitizers as it renders a bitter taste, making the liquid less appealing for consumption.

The FDA in a news release said that calls to the National Poison Data System increased by 79 percent in March this year, compared to March 2019. The majority of the calls were for unintentional exposures of the substance in children aged 5 and younger.

The announcement came as more than 1,500 new manufacturers of alcohol-based hand sanitizers registered with the FDA as it works to improve the safety and supply of the product amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Demand for hand sanitizers soared after the government and health agencies advised people to clean their hands thoroughly to discourage the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which has caused at least 56,235 deaths in the United States, and infected nearly 1 million.

“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,” Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, FDA commissioner, said in a statement.

“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.”

The FDA noted a case this month in which a 13-year-old child ingested hand sanitizer packaged in a liquor bottle from a distiller, which did not have denatured alcohol added to it and so reportedly tasted like normal drinking alcohol.

“Unfortunately, ingestion of only a small amount of hand sanitizer may be potentially lethal in a young child,” the regulator warned.

The FDA also advised that hand sanitizers are labeled with child safety warnings and information to seek medical help should the liquid be ingested accidentally. Children under the age of 6 should be supervised to prevent accidental swallowing, it said.

Last month, the agency relaxed rules to allow pharmacists to supply alcohol-based hand sanitizers without prescriptions.

The FDA’s advisory follows recent comments from President Donald Trump about exposing the body to disinfectants as a potential treatment for the CCP virus—a remark the president said was sarcastic.

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the daily briefing
President Donald Trump participates in the daily briefing of the Coronavirus Task Force in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on April 27, 2020. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Trump said Friday. The president said he was asking experts “whether or not sun [sunlight] can help us … sun has a massive impact negatively on this [virus]” during Thursday’s news briefing.

“I do think disinfectant on the hands could have a very good effect,” he said.

The president was making reference to comments he made during his White House briefing when a Department of Homeland Security undersecretary revealed that the virus deteriorates more quickly when subjected to heat, humidity, and ultraviolet rays from the sun.

“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous—whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light—and I think you said that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it,” Trump said on Thursday. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside of the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you’re going to test that too. Sounds interesting.”

“Then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning,” Trump continued. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.”

The president later noted in the press conference that “it wouldn’t be through injection” but “almost a cleaning, sterilization of an area.”

Hahn said in a statement Monday that hand sanitizers “are not proven to treat COVID-19,” adding, “…like other products meant for external use, are not for ingestion, inhalation, or intravenous use.”

Jack Phillips and Reuters contributed to this report.