GOJO, the maker of Purell hand sanitizer, is facing two class-action lawsuits accusing it of "misleading claims" that it can prevent "99.9 percent of illness-causing germs."
The most recent lawsuit, filed by four people March 13 in federal court for the Northeastern District of Ohio, comes as retailers scramble to keep hand sanitizer in stock amid a coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 230,000 people around the world and forced millions of Americans to stay at home indefinitely.
Purell's label states the product can kill "99.9 percent of illness-causing germs." The suit claims that it's misleading because it implies "sound scientific support when none exists."
"These claims lack a scientific basis, rendering the affirmative misrepresentations misleading," the lawsuit says.
In a statement, GOJO president and CEO Carey Jaros called the accusations "without merit" and said that the company stands "100 percent behind the products."
A separate class-action lawsuit was filed last month in the same federal court by different plaintiffs. That suit states that the manufacturer "has broken the public's trust" by repeatedly marketing unsubstantiated claims.
In January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to the maker of Purell warning GOJO against making unsubstantiated claims about the effectiveness of its products. The FDA cited several advertising campaigns suggesting that Purell could prevent the flu, ebola, norovirus and other potentially deadly diseases.
"However, FDA is currently not aware of any adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating that killing or decreasing the number of bacteria or viruses on the skin by a certain magnitude produces a corresponding clinical reduction in infection or disease caused by such bacteria or virus," the federal agency wrote.
Demand for hand sanitizer is surging as coronavirus spreads. According to market research firm Nielsen, hand sanitizer purchases in the United States were up 73 percent during the four weeks until February 22, with analysts predicting sales “won’t peak for some time," CNBC reported.
The sudden demand for hand sanitizer has lead to hoarding and price gouging concerns. Two brothers in Tennessee stockpiled 17,700 bottles and were forced to donate the items after the state's attorney general opened a price-gouging investigation.