The FDA published a warning letter to GOJO Industries, the company who produces Purell, earlier this month.

We are smack dab in the middle of flu season, which means we should all be taking extra precautions to keep germs at bay and our bodies healthy. Most of us are using scientifically proven methods for flu prevention—washing our hands under warm water, getting plenty of sleep and loading up on nourishing foods—but what about hand sanitizer? As it turns out, this antiseptic product may not be as beneficial in preventing the flu and other illnesses as it may seem.

The FDA published a warning letter to GOJO Industries, the company that produces Purell, earlier this month urging it to stop labeling their products with claims such as "kills more than 99.99% of most common germs that may cause illness in a healthcare setting, including MRSA & VRE."

This letter also calls out Purell's "Frequently Asked Questions" website page, which claims the product ismade with ethyl alcohol, a substance that may effectively prevent Ebola, norovirus, influenza and other illnesses.

"Your labeling claims that [Purell hand sanitizers] are effective in preventing disease or infection from pathogens such as Ebola, MRSA, VRE, norovirus, flu and Candida auris, and in preventing the spread of infection, go beyond merely describing the general intended use of a topical antiseptic as set forth in the above-referenced relevant rulemakings," the letter says. "Furthermore, the claims on your product websites suggest that [Purell hand sanitizers] are effective in reducing illness or disease-related student and teacher absenteeism also go beyond merely describing the general intended use of a topical antiseptic as set forth in the above-referenced relevant rulemakings."

Purell hand sanitizer
Credit: Purell

The letter goes on to say that the FDA is unaware of any adequate and well-controlled published clinical trials that support the claims that these products are GRASE—generally recognized as safe and effective—for these and other uses.

GOJO Industries is instructed to take prompt action and respond to the FDA's letter within 15 working days after receiving it with a detailed plan on how the company will correct these and other violations mentioned in the letter.

While there's no need to ditch your hand sanitizer for good, just remember that they aren't a magic pill for preventing the common cold,flu or other illnesses. Your best bet is to wash your hands with soap and water, according to the CDC, and reach for a hand sanitizer containing 60% or more ethyl alcohol (Purell contains 70%) if you don't have access to a sink. Check out 5 Easy Ways to Stay Healthy During Cold and Flu Season to help keep your immunity strong this winter with other research-backed preventative measures.