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Critical Supply
June 17, 2020

Why a Shortage in Hand Sanitizer Could Be Making Some Sanitizer Products Unsafe

COVID-19 has turned hand sanitizer into one of the most in-demand commodities. As a result, suppliers have had difficulty keeping up with demand. This has created an opportunity for inexperienced vendors to enter the market to fill the void. Unfortunately, the rise of"overnight" suppliers and vendors is creating a real problem for consumers. We are seeing that the standards in manufacturing that are typically used by respected, established suppliers are being ignored.

The urgency involved in sourcing sanitizer at the moment means that customers don't have the resources available to vet new sources before placing orders. Sanitizer product integrity is an issue that cannot be ignored if you're tasked with sourcing sanitizer for a commercial or medicalfacility.

In this article, we’ll explore the heart of the problem. Also, we'll be covering what everyone needs to know about non-alcohol sanitizer in an upcoming article that is part of our "consumer awareness" series during COVID-19.

A Look at the Different Types of Sanitizer

It's essential to be familiar with the sanitizer products available when researching exactly why consumers must be cautious. The two primary types of sanitizer available are liquid and gel.Generally, liquid is in higher demand among medical professionals and health facilities. This is owed to the fact that liquid sanitizer evaporates quickly without leaving behind any chalky or sticky residue. Gel sanitizer is more commonly used at the consumer level.

It's important to look beyond just sanitizer type when sourcing products. Many purchasers are unfamiliar with the fact that quality for both gel and liquid is determined by the purity of ingredients. This is where we get into the critical topic of ethanol/alcohol. This is also where we begin to discuss the disingenuous sourcing and marketing that's been going on among some vendors and distributors.

Ethanol is the primary material in almost all mainstream sanitizer products. However, ethanol is not exclusively used in sanitizer. It is a common ingredient used in products across a wide range of industries. Here's a look at the conventional categories of ethanol:

●    Fuel grade

●    Technical grade

●    Food grade

●    Pharmacopoeia grade

In April of 2020, Health Canada and the FDA issued temporary changes for guidelines regarding ethanol content in sanitizer products in response to product shortages. The changes meant that certain technical-grade ethanol types could be used in the production of sanitizer.This is a departure from the standard of only allowing food-grade ethanol or higher in sanitizer production. There is no end date for the loosening of standards. Health Canada has only shared that the change in guidelines will be reversed once food-grade ethanol can once again be produced in quantities that meet demand levels.

One of the reasons for strict guidelines regarding ethanol that can be used in sanitizer is that higher grades contain fewer impurities. Unfortunately, a decision made by Health Canada to keep Canadians safe by expanding access to sanitizer has had some unintended consequences. The significant risk at hand is that an impurity like acetaldehyde could be present in large doses. Hand sanitizers that contain acetaldehyde can pose health risks when used frequently. Health Canada has had to recall several sanitizer products that have been found to contain industrial-grade ethanol that is not necessarily appropriate or approved for use in hand sanitizers. Using sanitizer that is not regulated correctly could potentially result in dry skin, irritation or cracking.

There is also another issue that is making hand sanitizer a potentially "dangerous" item. Some distributors who have rushed to enter the sanitizer market during the COVID-19 sanitizer shortage are improvising with bottles and packaging that are not explicitly made for hand sanitizer. As a result, customers are encountering sanitizer packaged in containers that are meant to hold beverages. Sanitizer has been found to be sold in everything from soda bottles to beer cans. This disturbing trend puts the public at risk because these bottles can be mistaken for food or beverages.

Health Canada has been trying to enforce strict labeling guidelines for companies that distribute sanitizer using unorthodox packing. However, the risk for accidental consumption is high among children, even with the best labeling. A child could end up with severe alcohol poisoning after consuming a portion of a bottle filled with hand sanitizer.

Why are new manufacturers using unorthodox,non-regulation packaging for hand sanitizer? Unfortunately, there is also a global shortage of bottles and caps right now. Newer companies don't necessarily have the supply channels in place to source appropriate containers and packaging. Many are merely purchasing surplus bottles wherever they can find them. This is why we are seeing hand sanitizer being packaged in things like wine bottles. Many of the bottling sanitizer manufacturers are unfamiliar with the regulations, quality control, and environmental policies that go into the process.

Unfortunately, the whole scenario adds up to be a real nightmare for product integrity and safety for people who need to purchase hand sanitizer to keep their commercial businesses and healthcare facilities safe.

It's Confusing Out There for Customers

Consumers are being caught in the middle when it comes to making sense of how to responsibly and adequately source hand sanitizer. Making matters even more complicated is the fact that hand sanitizer is increasingly being imported globally from countries that may not have the same standards that are required by agencies like Health Canada or the FDA. As a result, there is a real lack of consumer protection.

There are some things that all consumers need to know when sourcing hand sanitizer. The first is that both Health Canada and the American CDC state that it's necessary to use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent ethanol alcohol.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends formulations with ethanol volumes of up to 80 percent. The advantage of using sanitizer formulas made using the WHO's recommended method is that you're getting a very "runny" liquid product that can very easily be applied to the hands of doctors, staff and patients from wall-mounted containers. It's important to note that the WHO-endorsed formula for hand sanitizer requires particular combinations of ingredients. Many companies that are new to the market are claiming to follow WHO-approved recipes. However, most lack the experience and infrastructure to make a compliant product. What's more, the rush to get new products to market means there is very little oversight at the moment.

Get Access for All Your Critical Supply Needs

The supply chain problems are making it difficult to know where you can go to source effective, reliable products. At Critical Supply, we don't believe that desperation and lack of information should ever cause a customer to source Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and supplies from unreliable sources. That's why we ensure quality, consistent access to information and products that address health problems in real-time.Critical Supply takes pride in vetting suppliers and securing raw materials using the strictest policies. Our platform improves access to in-demand equipment through our Canada-based firm. Critical Supply members enjoy access to the quality products that are in demand now.

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