After alarming testing results, the FDA has taken unprecedented action against importing hand sanitizers from Mexico. A new import alert, the first ever category-wide alert issued for an entire country, places all hand sanitizers coming from Mexico under increased scrutiny and FDA entry reviews. This news comes hot on the heels of a rubbing alcohol recal l, highlighting ongoing problems with the market for coronavirus killers.

What’s the problem?

The FDA carries out routine tests on food, medicine, and related products being sold in the US. The results it found for hand sanitizers being sold during the pandemic were anything but normal; 84% of sanitizers imported from Mexico did not meet FDA standards, and more than half were toxic. The news release does not specify if any injuries have been reported.

Judy McMeekin, PharmD, FDA associate commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, explained in the announcement. "Consumer use of hand sanitizers has increased significantly during the coronavirus pandemic, especially when soap and water are not accessible, and the availability of poor-quality products with dangerous and unacceptable ingredients will not be tolerated."

The risks

The release mentions two specific contaminants: methanol and 1-propanol. These are types of alcohol, but aren’t for human consumption. Methanol, also called wood alcohol, is used as a solvent and in manufacturing for chemicals and other products. Propanol is used when making cosmetics, dyes, cleaners, rubbing alcohol and more.

According to the FDA, methanol can cause symptoms such as “nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death.” Propanol contact can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions, and when swallowed it “can result in decreased breathing and heart rate, among other serious symptoms, and can lead to death.”

Keeping yourself and your family safe

The FDA provides a number of resources, including a constantly updated list of hand sanitizers to avoid, a guideline sheet for using sanitizers, and a detailed Q&A page. If you experience symptoms of methanol or propanol poisoning, the FDA recommends contacting your local Poison Control agency; healthcare professionals should report the incident to MedWatch.

Sean Marsala is a health writer based in Philadelphia, Pa. Passionate about technology, he can usually be found reading, browsing the internet and exploring virtual worlds.