The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has placed all alcohol-based hand sanitizers from Mexico on a nationwide import alert in an effort to stop products with dangerous and even life-threatening forms of alcohol from entering the U.S. until the agency can further review their safety.
“Over the course of the ongoing pandemic, the agency has seen a sharp increase in hand sanitizer products from Mexico that were labeled to contain ethanol but tested positive for methanol contamination,” the agency said in an alert issued Wednesday.
The FDA issued a prohibition last year against 37 Mexican companies to prevent them from exporting their products.
Methanol, or wood alcohol, can be toxic when absorbed through the skin and life-threatening when ingested.
The FDA has been issuing warnings on its website about hand sanitizer products from Mexico — and other nations like China, Korea, and Turkey — throughout much of the pandemic, but this is the first time it has issued a countrywide import alert for any category of drug product.
Officials said they have identified seven deaths in the U.S. directly linked to hand sanitizers manufactured in Mexico that contained methanol.
The alert means that alcohol-based hand sanitizers imported from Mexico will be subject to heightened FDA scrutiny and that shipments can be detained by FDA staff.
The FDA’s analyses found 84% of samples from April through December 2020 were not in compliance with FDA regulations. More than half of the samples were found to contain toxic ingredients, including methanol and/or 1-propanol, at dangerous levels.
“Consumer use of hand sanitizers has increased significantly during the coronavirus pandemic, especially when soap and water are not accessible,” an FDA spokeswoman said. “The availability of poor-quality products with dangerous and unacceptable ingredients will not be tolerated.”
A list of all hand sanitizer products found by the FDA either to be potentially dangerous or simply ineffective can be found here.
Meanwhile, Mexican sanitizers were associated with a much different kind of danger this week — kidnappers.
According to Mexico City Police Chief Omar García Harfuch, officers arrested a pair of suspects in Miguel Hidalgo who were running a scam in which customers who thought they were buying large amounts of sanitization products were lured to a location where they were held against their will and ordered to pay large sums of money or have family members do so in exchange for their release.
Mexico News Daily