Experts say counterfeit hand sanitizer recall at Dollarama is a lesson for retailers

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TORONTO — 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 Tuesday 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 202 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 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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