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Experts say counterfeit hand sanitizer recall is a lesson for retailers

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Dollarama Inc. is removing a counterfeit and recalled hand sanitizer from its shelves, which experts say should serve as a reminder of how important it is for retailers and consumers to do their due diligence when shopping.

“Since coronavirus started, it’s just been a huge Wild West of personal protective equipment (PPE),” said Yue Gao, a pharmacist and the quality assurance lead at Ontario-based PPE supplier MedyKits.

“Some people don’t realize that this is happening.”

Gao’s remarks came after Health Canada revealed that it had uncovered a counterfeit Daily Shield hand sanitizer for sale at one of Dollarama’s Thunder Bay, Ont. with the same lot number as a legitimate Bio Life Sciences Corp. product.

Montreal-based Dollarama said the 250 mL product labelled NPN 80098979, Lot 6942 Expiry May 2023 was available in roughly half the chain’s stores and each location sold about 17 bottles, which were removed as soon as Health Canada began investigating.

Health Canada believes the fraudulent version of the product may not be effective at killing bacteria and viruses, and poses serious health risks because it contains methanol. The ingredient is not authorized for use in hand sanitizers and can cause severe adverse reactions or death when ingested.

It’s far from the only recall the country has faced in recent months as COVID-19 has made hand sanitizers a hot commodity and spurred dozens of distillers and now companies to start pumping out the product.

Health Canada said it has recalled more than 100 hand sanitizers recently and Gao has heard her fair share of complaints about concerning products.

“Working in the pharmacy, I actually had a customer come up to me and show me pictures of her son’s hands because he developed a rash and very very dry skin that was red from hand sanitizer he was using in school,” Gao said. “It didn’t look good right so I had to tell her ? to make sure that you’re protecting yourself with your purchases.”

Fraser Johnson, the Leenders Supply Chain Management Association chair at Western University in Ontario, said recalls highlight that retailers should be focused on two things: suppliers and quality.

“You get non-reputable suppliers that want to cheat and they can go through a review process with (a retailer) and be supplying them for a number of years and then decide that they want to substitute the hand sanitizer that they’ve been shipping with them and not disclose that,” said Johnson.

“That’s a very difficult thing for a company to check.”

Retailers, he said, can ask hand sanitizer makers for references or search for websites and proof of what other companies have trusted the brand.

Health Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press that it recommends companies refer to a list of authorized hand sanitizers, complete with natural product and drug identification labels, it has posted on its website

The organization has also released a second list of disinfectants and hand sanitizers accepted under interim measure the government put in place allowing for certain products to be sold in Canada if they were approved in other jurisdictions (and were determined not to compromise safety.

Health Canada said it is continuing to investigate the Daily Shield counterfeits with the co-operation of Dollarama, which told The Canadian Press in an email that all of its hand sanitizer purchases go through a full compliance review before being sold to ensure the quality and safety of the product.

“The product in question was purchased through a long-standing Canadian vendor. Dollarama was not the importer or license holder of this product,” said spokesperson Lyla Radmanovich.

“Customers are invited to discard the product or return it to any store for a full refund.”

Customers who don’t want to be duped should only buy from trusted retailers with brands they associate with quality, said Johnson.

If it looks like it’s cheap, think he carefully, he said.

When Gao is purchasing hand sanitizer, she makes sure it doesn’t have methanol in it and pays close attention to the label.

“Some of these counterfeit sanitizer companies have a fake label on top of the bottle, and the only time you can really tell that those ones are fake is to just keep an eye on recalls that Health Canada website puts up, so be vigilant and tracking that as well.”


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Recall of Daily Shield hand sanitizer expanded, manufacturer’s licence suspended

Unknown-1Health Canada has suspended the licence of a Mississauga manufacturer of hand sanitizer and issued an expanded recall for some of its products found to contain unauthorized ingredients that could be unsafe for consumers.

The government agency said that Bio Life Science Corp.’s Daily Shield-branded hand sanitizer is being pulled off the shelves of Dollarama Inc. and any other unspecified retailers across the country it may have been sold at.

The 250 mL product was found to contain less than the recommended amount of ethanol, which decreases the chances of the product being effective at killing bacteria and viruses. The sanitizer also contained methanol, which poses serious health risks because it can cause severe adverse reactions or death when ingested.

“Health Canada also identified that Bio Life had a number of good manufacturing practices violations, including poor record-keeping, lack of control of inventory, and lack of finished product testing,” the agency said in a release.

“As a result, Health Canada directed the company to stop all licensable activities. All product licences held by the firm have been suspended and an intent to revoke the COVID-19 site licence has been issued.”

Bio Life did not immediately response to a request for comment.

The enhanced restrictions against the company come after its sanitizer was first recalled last month.

At the time, Health Canada said it believed the products, labelled NPN 80098979, Lot 6942 Expiry May 2023, were counterfeit.

The agency said it has now determined the items are not counterfeit, but that it is continuing to investigate Bio Life’s other products – wipes, gels and liquid-based sanitizers – to determine if other action is needed.

When asked whether the agency will be fining or charging Bio Life, Health Canada said in a statement that it is “committed to stopping the production and import of unauthorized or counterfeit drugs in Canada and will not hesitate to take additional actions as necessary to stop this illegal activity.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began and dozens of distillers and new companies began pumping out hand sanitizer, Health Canada said it has had to recall more than 100 of the products it found concerning.

Montreal-based Dollarama, where Bio Life’s problematic hand sanitizer was first found by Health Canada in Thunder Bay, Ont., previously said that the product was available in roughly half the chain’s stores and each location sold about 17 bottles.

Dollarama said the sanitizers were removed as soon as Health Canada began investigating and the agency is now working to verify that it is no longer being sold by any other distributors or retailers.

Anyone who purchased this product, Health Canada said to stop using it immediately.


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Health Canada recalls more hand sanitizer products

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Health Canada continues to add new products to its growing list of recalled hand sanitizers, included a product is has deemed counterfeit.

Hand sanitizer is an important category for c-stores and the ideal last-minute purchase at check-out.

Most recently, Health Canada warned a counterfeit version of the authorized Daily Shield hand sanitizer had been found for sale at a Dollarama store in Thunder Bay.

The product may not be effective at killing bacteria and viruses, and may pose serious risks to health.

It also says the product is suspected to contain methanol, which is not authorized for use in hand sanitizers and could cause severe adverse reactions or death when ingested.

The counterfeit version is labelled with NPN 80098979, Lot 6942; Expiry May 2023 and is sold in a 250 mL format.

The agency also recently pulled two Sanix products for containing methanol: Prairie Potions’ Purify Hand Sanitizer and Antibacterial Spray.

Last Best Brewing and Distilling Hand Sanitizer and Rocky Mountain Soap Company’s Nomad Hand Sanitizer (Lemongrass) are both being recalled for missing risk statements, in additions to containing unauthorized technical-grade ethanol.

Since June, Health Canada has recalled more than 100 hand sanitizer products, often for containing unauthorized ingredients or improper labelling. For the latest recalls, visit the Health Canada website.

To find out if the hand sanitizer you’re selling is safe, CLICK HERE to search by brand name. 


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Stocking up on the new staple: Hand sanitizer

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The importance of hand hygiene was highlighted early in the global COVID-19 pandemic. Health departments advised Canadians to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, or if that wasn’t available, to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Within days demand spiked, and consumers began stockpiling hand sanitizer, antibacterial liquid soap, disposable wet wipes and spray disinfectants.

According to market researcher Statista, year-over-year hand sanitizer sales in Canada jumped 735% during the week ending March 14, 2020, while sales of personal wipes grew 268%. The Canadian hand sanitizer segment is now worth US$29.11 million, and Statista expects 5.5% annual growth for the next five years.

As consumers cleaned out shelves of sanitizers and wipes, Health Canada began fast-tracking licenses for businesses to manufacture, package, label and/or import alcohol-based hand sanitizers. As a result, hundreds of distillers and brewers entered the hand hygiene market, while pharma and skincare companies also pivoted to produce sanitizer. The interim measure, says Health Canada, “will be in place until the regular supply of hand sanitizers stabilizes.”

That could be some time, says Amar Singh, Kantar Consulting’s principal analyst for Canada. “It’s not an out-of-stock problem, it’s basically that the manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand.” In June, for example, GOJO Industries, maker of Purell, announced it had more than doubled its pre-pandemic production levels, and was opening two new Ohio facilities to “expand its capacity to meet exponential increases in demand for Purell sanitizer, soap, wipes and surface spray,” according to the company.

“Demand is going to stay strong,” says Singh, “but the supply is actually going to come from smaller, more local manufacturers. Sourcing and traceability will be key, and the format size will be key, because people are not going to carry a one-litre jar of gel around with them.” He adds that portable sanitizers “will be part of our sanitary regimen for the foreseeable future,” especially as hygiene habits become ingrained. But while it’s currently “more about functionality,” consumers will soon start looking for value-added products. “For instance, hand sanitizer is bad for your skin in the long run, and there are health studies that have come out around strong hand sanitizers … so here will be a revisit of making it safer, there will be new fragrances, new chemical compositions, and even new innovations from this space such as products that are a moisturizer and sanitizer at the same time.”

Hawkesbury, Ont.-based The Green Beaver Company introduced its Antiseptic Spray Hand Sanitizer during the pandemic, although the company’s marketing project manager Yannick Brown says it was already planning to add sanitizer to its line of all-natural body-care products. Available in a 90-mL container, the spray features 70% USP-grade ethanol, essential oils and plant-based glycerin. Brown says he’s seen “an explosion of both conventional and natural alternatives now available,” and although demand “is declining over time,” he expects it to remain high.

Moncton, N.B.-based Prelam Enterprises also launched its E-Z Pur Soap On The Go at the peak of the pandemic in purse- and pocket-size spray bottles. “I realized we can’t carry the usual hand soap bottles with us to the grocery store, so I developed this convenient carry-with- you hand soap,” says Prelam co-founder Luc Jalbert. The soap contains five essential oils with “antimicrobial and antiseptic properties,” purportedly first used against the Black Plague. Jalbert adds that “since this innovation launched, we’ve developed a new alcohol-free hand sanitizer with glycerin, that is effective and that is approved by Health Canada.” Also new is its E-Z Pur Shopper’s Helper Surface Disinfectant in a portable 53-mL bottle.

We can expect to see even more anti-bacterial wipes and other new formats of hand sanitizer appearing on the market, says Singh, adding that “those innovations will be quick-selling items at the front of the store.”

He suggests merchandising hand sanitizer as part of a hygiene regime that includes moisturizer and other skin lotions, in the same way after-sun products are sold with sunscreen. Brown agrees, saying hand sanitizers should be “with the hand soaps, and at impulse purchase points like the cash.”

Singh also suggests grocers take their cues from U.K. chains like Marks & Spencer and Boots, which now sell mini versions of their private-label sanitizers in single and multi-pack formats. “It depends on the margins, but it’s an area of investment grocers should look into because it does add incrementality.”

Originally published at Canadian Grocer.