FDA sends hand sanitizer brand Purell strict warning

Purell hand sanitizer, available at most drugstores, does not leave residue after its rubbed in. ( Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images )

Federal health officials are calling on GoJo, the maker of Purell products, to stop making claims that its hand sanitizer is effective at eliminating diseases.

In a letter, the Food and Drug Administration called out the company for posting several claims across Purell website pages and its social media platforms that the over-the-counter hand sanitizers could reduce the risk of illnesses including Ebola, norovirus, influenza and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is an infection is caused by a type of staph bacteria.

"We are not aware of evidence demonstrating that the Purell Healthcare Advanced Hand Sanitizer products as formulated and labeled are generally recognized by qualified experts as safe and effective for use under the conditions suggested, recommended, or prescribed in their labeling," the letter stated.

However, Samantha Williams, corporate communications senior director of GoJo told FOX Business the company immediately took action after receiving the letter and "have begun updating relevant website and other digital content as directed by the FDA."

"It is important to emphasize that the FDA letter was not related to the safety or quality of our products, or our manufacturing processes.  Our products can and should continue to be used as part of good hand hygiene practice, to reduce germs," said Williams. "Our intention has always been and continues to be to adhere to FDA guidance while advancing and sharing the latest hygiene science to help improve public health.  Uncompromising Integrity is a core value of our Purpose-driven Family Enterprise and we apply this principle to everything we do."

The warning comes the new viral illness is being watched with a wary eye around the globe. The coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 100 people in China while the number of confirmed cases surged to more than 4,500.

Hand sanitizers have become nearly ubiquitous over the last few decades, offered in workplaces, schools, restaurants and other public spaces to reduce the spread of germs. Since 2009, about 90 percent of sanitizers sold to the public have included either ethanol or ethyl alcohol, according to agency officials.

The products in question include Purell advanced hand sanitizer gentle & free foam, Purell advanced hand sanitizer gel and Purell advanced hand sanitizer gentle & free foam ES6 starter kit, according to the FDA. The agency noted the products listed are widely used in various settings including athletic facilities, schools, and offices.

One of the claims cited by the FDA includes: “Kills more than 99.99% of most common germs that may cause illness in a healthcare setting, including MRSA & VRE."

Representatives from the Food and Drug Administration have not immediately responded to FOX Business' request for comment.

Previous studies indicated that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95 percent are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Hand sanitizers without a high concentration of alcohol between 60 and 95 percent “merely reduce the growth of germs rather than kill them outright,” the CDC said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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