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You may be using a hand sanitiser that doesn't work against Covid, expert warns

8 July 2020 6:04 PM

Hand sanitiser has become a highly sought-after product amid the coronavirus pandemic. But are all of them effective? Wendy Knowler investigates.

The hand sanitiser that you're forced to use when entering a retail store may not contain the recommended minimum of 70% alcohol.

The same goes for the hand sanitiser that you add to your shopping basket.

Tests on a sample of hand sanitisers suggest that almost half of sanitisers are not complying with the government's regulations.

Picture: 123rf

In May, an accredited laboratory in KwaZulu-Natal tested a sample of 11 hand sanitisers. Nine of them were bought from retail stores in the Pietermaritzburg area and two were samples of sanitiser sprayed on customer’s hands at store or mall entrances.

The private lab, Sci-Corp Laboratories, found that five of the 11 samples contained less than 70% alcohol.

Among those that did meet the requirements were Woolworths’ own brand and sanitisers supplied to Pick n Pay and Dis-Chem, explains consumer journalist Wendy Knowler.

The lab tested for three forms of alcohol: ethanol, propanol, and isopropanol - one at a time.

All but one of the store-bought samples claimed to contain more than 70% alcohol; one made no claim at all.

SciCorp Laboratories' business development director Adrian Barnard cautions that some hand sanitisers could contain harmful chemicals to "make up the deficit" of alcohol.

These toxic substances include formalin and methanol, he tells CapeTalk.

When they substitute the good stuff for something else, the bigger concern is 'What is that something else?'.

Adrian Barnard, Business Development Director - SciCorp Laboratories

Anything from dying to a skin rash is what you're dealing with, with some of these chemicals. That's frightening.

Adrian Barnard, Business Development Director - SciCorp Laboratories

At the same time, a microbiologist has warned that the poor regulation of substandard sanitisers could result in a serious public health threat during this pandemic, Knowler shares.

It's not a case of consumer swindle... here, we're talking about a matter of life and death. We're relying very heavily on these products to protect us. To get it wrong, for whatever reason, is unacceptable.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer journalist

Bogus SABS certification

Meanwhile, the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has warned that not all sanitisers or personal protective equipment (PPE) have been certified.

In fact, the SABS product certification process is facing significant delays.

While the SABS-approved mark on goods often provides consumers with some peace of mind, it appears some products are using fake certification stamps.

Knowler says that by late June, the SABS had issued 13 “cease-and-desist” letters relating to sanitisers falsely marked with certification stamps.

We're four months into this crisis now. Any new product that's come onto the market since March that has that SABS mark on it is very unlikely to be a genuine accreditation.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer journalist

Pretoria-based microbiologist Dr. Lucia Anelich says while the SABS standard for alcohol-based hand rubs is the very least that businesses supplying these products should comply with, it remains a voluntary standard.

Dr. Anelich says the only way to ensure compliance is to make industry standards mandatory under the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) Act.

Knowler has contacted the companies linked to the hand sanitisers tested by SciCorp Labs to inform them of the findings. She shares some of their responses with CapeTalk host Pippa Hudson. Read the full findings here.

Listen to the discussion on ConsumerTalk with Wendy Knowler:


8 July 2020 6:04 PM

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