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FDA Updates Policies to Increase Supply of Ethanol Available for Use in Hand Sanitizers

Key Takeaways:

  • What Happened: FDA updated its temporary hand sanitizer production policies to permit use of fuel- or technical-grade ethanol that contains certain impurities up to given limits.

  • Who’s Impacted: Manufacturers of fuel- and technical-grade ethanol and producers of alcohol-based hand sanitizer products during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • What Should They Consider Doing in Response: Ensure that ethanol manufactured, distributed, or procured for use in hand sanitizer products meets the standards defined in FDA’s updated temporary policies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on June 1 updated its temporary hand sanitizer policies with the stated aim of helping to ensure a sufficient supply of ethanol for use in hand sanitizer products that does not include harmful levels of impurities. Specifically, FDA will temporarily permit the use in hand sanitizer products of fuel- or technical-grade ethanol that contains certain impurities, as long as those impurities do not exceed given limits.

FDA’s updated policies are effective immediately. They will remain in effect for the duration of the public health emergency announced by the Department of Health and Human Services on January 31, after which FDA intends to withdraw the temporary policies. FDA’s action complements similar steps it has taken separately to facilitate the manufacture and availability of medical devices intended for use against the novel coronavirus.

1. FDA’s Temporary Enforcement Discretion Policies for Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers

During the pandemic, FDA is not enforcing some of its requirements for certain aqueous solution hand sanitizers that contain ethanol or isopropyl alcohol as active ingredients. These products must meet specific formulation and production criteria established under FDA’s temporary policies for the manufacturing of alcohol for, and the compounding and preparation of, alcohol-based hand sanitizer products. For example, formulas must be consistent with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. Any ethanol in these products must also be denatured consistent with Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) requirements.  The FDA guidance explains, “Denaturing is critical because there have been reports of adverse events, including deaths, from ingestion of hand sanitizer. Most reports are for unintentional ingestion in young children.” Such products must be produced at FDA-registered facilities and be labeled consistent with FDA-prescribed requirements. Other requirements also apply.

Ethanol used in such products must generally be tested for impurities and meet United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or Food Chemical Codex (FCC) grade requirements. However, some fuel ethanol products may contain carcinogenic chemicals such as gasoline, benzene, and acetaldehyde. Although these impurities are not expected from typical ethanol fermentation and distillation processes, they may be present when manufacturing fuel- or technical-grade ethanol.  Ethanol containing these impurities does not meet USP or FCC grade requirements.

2. Temporarily Permitting Certain Impurities in Fuel-Grade Ethanol Used in Hand Sanitizers

The latest update to FDA’s temporary hand sanitizer manufacturing, compounding, and preparation policies allows for the use of fuel- or technical-grade ethanol that includes some of the reported impurities, as long as those impurities do not exceed specified concentrations. FDA states that it has determined that these impurities “can be tolerated for a relatively short period of time.”

Thus, for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, fuel grade ethanol may now be compounded into hand sanitizer under the temporary policies as long as:

  1. It contains no gasoline or any gasoline components (e.g., n-heptane);

  2. Impurities meet the newly established interim limits for methanol, benzene, acetaldehyde, and acetal (1,1-diethoxyethane) and no other potentially harmful impurities are present;

  3. If the sum of all other impurities (such as acetone, n-propanol, and ethyl acetate) exceeds FDA’s interim limit of 300 ppm, they must be individually identified and remain within specific limitations established for each such impurity; and 

  4. If the ethanol contains any impurity not listed by FDA, the entity wishing to use it must submit data specifying the level for each individual impurity and information regarding the safety of each impurity, if available, for FDA’s assessment.

© 2020 Beveridge & Diamond PC National Law Review, Volume X, Number 160



About this Author

Mark N. Duvall Chemicals Regulation Attorney Beveridge & Diamond Washington, DC

Mark has over two decades of experience working in-house at large chemical companies. 

His focus is product regulation at the federal, state, and international levels across a wide range of programs, and occupational safety and health.

He leads the firm’s Chemicals group. His experience under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) includes enforcement actions, counseling, rulemaking, advocacy, and legislative actions. Since the enactment of TSCA amendments in 2016, he has been heavily involved in advocacy, compliance activity, and litigation arising from EPA's implementation...

Alan J. Sachs Regulatory Attorney Beveridge & Diamond Washington, DC

Alan’s practice focuses on the wide range of regulatory issues faced by the global agriculture, food, biotechnology, and bioenergy industries.

Practicing environmental law provides him with daily opportunities to use his legal skills and training to help clients overcome often extremely technical business and regulatory challenges in order to ensure compliance with applicable environmental requirements.

He advises numerous Forbes Global 2000 companies on the legal and regulatory requirements associated with both domestic and foreign production, and the import, export, and...

Jack B. Zietman Regulatory Environmental Attorney Beveridge & Diamond Washington, DC

Jack litigates and practices regulatory environmental law with a focus on groundwater issues and the agriculture, food, and chemical manufacturing industries.

His representative experience includes work on products liability and environmental tort litigation, as well as regulatory counsel for products regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). He is also familiar with fishery management issues, particularly pertaining to the conservation of endangered species, and the evolving U.S. regulations of...