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Hand sanitiser labels "a confusing mess": CHOICE

66% of Australians "don’t know" or are wrong about which sanitisers are effective against COVID-19.

A survey has revealed widespread confusion amongst Australians about the quality, effectiveness and monitoring of hand sanitiser products in Australia prompting consumer group CHOICE to call for labelling reform.

66% of Australians either didn't know (36%) or incorrectly believed (30%) alcohol free sanitisers would protect them from COVID-19 highlighting a major information gap that could leave Australians buying products that won't protect them. A further CHOICE analysis of sanitiser labeling found sanitisers lacking key information like the percentage of alcohol in products, making it difficult to buy products that meet WHO standards for sanitisers.

"Hand sanitiser standards and labelling in Australia is a confusing mess," says CHOICE Health Campaigner Dean Price.

"Right now, companies can call non-alcoholic gel products "hand sanitiser" even when there's no good evidence these products offer effective protection against viruses. These dud "sanitisers" can sit on the same supermarket shelves as genuinely effective options. We need better labels to help people find sanitisers guaranteed to protect them and their families." 

The Australian Government has an opportunity to fix sanitiser labels with better regulation and to resource spot checks to make sure the sanitisers on the market actually protect people against viruses," says Price.

Australians can join CHOICE's call for strong sanitiser standards at: CHOICE.com.au/handsanitiser 

The nationally representative survey* by CHOICE found that:

- 59% believe that hand sanitisers sold in Australia are required by law to state the percentage of alcohol they contain on the label (they don't)

- 49% believe that hand sanitisers sold in Australia are required by law to contain a certain amount of alcohol (they don't)

- 74% of Australians trust sanitisers sold in supermarkets and chemists are effective against COVID-19 (CHOICE says this high level of trust matched with poor information and labelling means people may buy ineffective products)

*This survey was included as part of TEG's October omnibus, fieldwork was conducted on 13-20 October, 2020. The sample size was 1,013, respondents were aged 18-70 and data was weighed to represent the Australian population.

CHOICE also analysed the labelling and claims of 30 supermarket sanitisers,  after conducting its own alcohol content spot test earlier this year. Nearly half of the sanitiser products analysed lacked key information, demonstrating the need for Government action.

The analysis of 30 supermarket sanitiser labels found that 47% of sanitiser brands don't label the percentage of alcohol in their product

Example labels/images available on Dropbox: https://shwca.se/handsanitiserlabels

CHOICE is calling for the Australian Government and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar to urgently:

- Implement a national labelling standard for sanitiser products so that only products known to be effective against viruses can use the term "hand sanitiser."

- Resource regular spot checks of sanitiser products to ensure they have enough alcohol to be effective against COVID-19. 

These measures would then allow the ACCC to issue fines to businesses that fail to comply with the standards.

"These are simple actions the Federal Government can take right now to ensure safe and effective sanitisers are being sold to Australians. Even outside of the context of a global pandemic, we must set a higher standard for essential health products," says Price.

Australians can join CHOICE in asking the Federal Assistant Treasurer to act at: CHOICE.com.au/handsanitiser

Media contact: Katelyn Cameron, 0430 172 669, media@choice.com.au

Editor's notes:

CHOICE has expanded its own testing program in the absence of meaningful regulation or monitoring, following a community tip off revealing a sanitiser with only 23% alcohol content - well below the amount required to be effective.

Safe sanitiser tips available for embedding here: https://infogram.com/safe-sanitising-tips-october-2020-update-1hkv2ndzoorr6x3?live 

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Samples of the labelling analysed by CHOICE. Left: An alcohol-free product being sold as hand sanitiser. Right: A common hand sanitiser that uses a confusing formula rather than a percentage to inform people of the alcohol content.