flu season

FDA Warns Purell to Stop Claiming It Can Prevent the Flu

Photo: Nancy Louie/Getty Images

Purell is great for taking out of your handbag at the end of dinner to demonstrate your commitment to personal hygiene and remove any remaining particles of sauce, but according to the Food and Drug Administration, it’s no miracle substance.

Last week, the FDA sent Gojo Industries, the manufacturer of Purell, a letter saying that its unsubstantiated claims that its hand sanitizers can help protect against the flu, Ebola virus, the MRSA superbug, and norovirus are in violation of the agency’s Cosmetic Act.

The FDA letter says that the agency “is currently not aware of any adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating that killing or decreasing the number of bacteria or viruses on the skin by a certain magnitude produce a corresponding clinical reduction in infection or disease caused by such bacteria or virus.” The agency also took particular issue with statements on the company’s websites that suggest its hand sanitizers are “effective in reducing illness or disease-related student and teacher absenteeism.”

A Gojo spokesperson said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch, “It is important to emphasize that the FDA letter was not related to safety or quality of our products, or our manufacturing processes. Our products can and should continue to be used as part of a good hand hygiene practice, to reduce germs.”

According to experts, alcohol-based hand sanitizer like Purell effectively kill viruses and bacteria on your hands at the time of use, but can’t protect against what’s on your hands an hour later. David Dowdy, an associate professor of infectious disease and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, told MoneyWatch, “Just using an alcohol wipe from time to time is not going to protect you all day, nor is it reasonable to think people are going to use one every five to 10 minutes.” So Purell is not “a preventative measure for flu prevention,” as the company has claimed, according to the FDA’s warning letter.

The notice comes amid growing international concern over the coronavirus outbreak in China and its continued spread, in addition to arrival of flu season. For the latter at least, there’s the flu shot, a genuine preventative measure.

FDA Warns Purell to Stop Claiming It Can Prevent the Flu