Are all hand sanitisers equal?

Biodx’s CEO, BURT RODRIGUES, highlights what you should look out for when shopping for hand sanitisers to ensure that you are fully protected.

Right now, each time you walk in or out of a shop, office or building, you’re supposed to use whatever hand sanitiser they’re offering – unless you bring your own. And, to be safe at home, you’ve probably been buying various products off the supermarket or pharmacy shelves.

Do these products make you feel safe? The very word sanitiser alone on the label, sadly, isn’t enough to guarantee your protection, particularly from Covid-19.

So how can you ensure you are, in fact, fully protected? In theory the answer should be easy. The label should clearly show a South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) approval stamp. After all, the SABS defines itself as a “leading global provider of standards and regulatory approval, certification and accreditation”. But how hard can it be to get that label when it can just be cut and pasted from the internet?

A product showing the SABS mark and registration tells you as the consumer that you’re guaranteed the same quality of product and performance every time you use it. Without this guarantee – or the false use of this label – means one thing: danger.

Sadly, the last 20 years have seen the degradation of such compliance platforms and people have become accustomed to buying non-regulated compounds, which are dangerous to human health. Today very few are aware what these regulations even are; now, with Covid-19 and the urgency around manufacturing and sourcing such products, this creates a very dangerous situation.

Alternatively, there is the NRCS (National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications), which ensures that products have a registration number, proving that, by using the product, you aren’t endangering society. The problem here is not everyone is a chemist, doctor or scientist, and people don’t realise they should check out the registration on products, with the company’s website, to verify its authenticity. After all, if you can’t rely on the NRCS brand being real, you can’t rely on yourself as a consumer.

Another thing that’s changed over the years is the enforcement behind false claims. In the past nobody would dare make a false claim on a product, because they could be jailed, but complacency has crept in over the years and these bodies no longer have the capacity to enforce such punishment.

Only a handful of companies/ brands comply
If people suddenly only started buying genuine SABS/NRCS labelled products, there would be only a handful of companies which could supply them. What has happened abroad, with a sudden surge in the need for disinfectant products, has been to allow products on to the shelves that have gone through the registration process but have not been awarded final documentation.

These are now being rapidly fast tracked and approved – but only if they comply with strict regulations. Such registrations normally take years and cost hundreds of thousands of rands to complete but, somehow, a number of few less-compliant products have also made it on to shelves.

So, what does this mean for schools that have just reopened? Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so many are quickly closing down again. The schools go through all the motions of disinfecting, but are they using genuine and safe products?

It all comes down to where the responsibility lies. We’re dealing with dangerous products here – possibly some that haven’t been tested for human consumption. If the instructions on a product aren’t clear and you put too much on your skin, for example, it won’t just kill the viruses but could damage your skin as well.

And then there’s the content. Some raw material contains sugar and if this is left behind after use, it can trigger a microbial explosion, turning 1 000 bugs into 100 000 bugs, creating rather than preventing infection.

Without proper SABS and NRCS rating, you truly are at risk.

What to do?
Always check the packaging label as follows:
• Does it display the SABS and NRCS marks?
• Does it contain SABS or NRCS registration numbers?
• If you are in doubt, go to the SABS or NRCS websites to check it out.

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