Hand sanitizer packaged in water bottles, beer cans, kids’ food pouches, FDA warns

Even small amounts of alcohol can be lethal to a small child, South Texas Poison Center director says.

SAN ANTONIO – Hand sanitizer is being packaged to resemble water bottles, juice, beer and even children’s food pouches, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.

Ingesting hand sanitizer can be dangerous and even deadly, especially to young children.

In addition to the potential packaging confusion, the FDA expressed concern about hand sanitizers with food flavors such as chocolate and raspberry, which could be dangerously enticing to children.

“We worry about hand sanitizer because it does contain about 70% ethanol. Ethanol is drinking alcohol,” said Dr. Shawn Varney, medical director of the South Texas Poison Center based at UT Health San Antonio.

“The amount of alcohol needed to make a small child sick or even drunk-like or be deathly ill is not very much,” he said.

Even an ounce of two of alcohol in the body of a small child could be lethal, Varney said.

Reports of hand sanitizer ingestions have soared as people have stocked up on hand sanitizers to protect themselves from COVID-19.

From March through August of last year, the South Texas Poison Center received 549 calls for hand sanitizer ingestions. For the same time period this year, the center received 948 calls, a 72% increase.

As demand has boomed, so has the number of dangerous products getting to market. The FDA has a long and growing list of hand sanitizers it says to avoid because they contain or likely contain methanol or 1-propanol, highly toxic if ingested or absorbed through the skin. The vast majority were made in Mexico.

To avoid buying questionable products, health officials say buy brands you know and from reputable stores.

“If a product is made in the USA, you have a better chance of a quality product without contaminants,” Varney said.

As for young children, he reminds parents to keep hand sanitizers, which are regulated products, out of reach.

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About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.