FDA Takes First Step on Path to Monograph for Antiseptics for Food Handlers

December 10, 2018By Riëtte van Laack & Deborah L. Livornese

On Dec. 6, FDA announced that it is formally seeking data, comments and information related to the assessment of safety and effectiveness of food handler antiseptic drug products (rubs and washes) for over-the-counter (OTC) use. Although this is a positive development, judging from the questions FDA poses, it is only the first step in what likely will be a long journey.

As detailed in the Federal Register notice, the road to this notice has been long. Since 1994, industry repeatedly has called for regulation of antiseptics for food handlers as a separate category of antiseptics under the monograph.

As readers of this blog know, antiseptic washes and rubs for use by consumers and in health care have been subject to review, and monographs for these products have been finalized. On every occasion, industry has submitted comments requesting that FDA treat food handler products separately. FDA recognizes that a separate category for this type of product is warranted. However, the Agency seems uncertain about a significant number of issues. In the notice, FDA discusses several issues for consideration, including:

  • The broad spectrum of uses. Food handling occurs in commercial settings from farm to table, including where food is grown, harvested, manufactured, packed, held, transported, prepared, served and consumed.
  • The variety of conditions. Not all food handler conditions are the same and they pose different challenges to effectiveness. For example, in some situations, hands are heavily soiled with organic matter such as grease and dirt.
  • The length of contact time. The Model Food Code, which addresses the safety at retail and food service establishments, specifies that a cleaning regime should last at least 20 sec. using a cleaning compound in a hand washing sink. In contrast, in vivo testing for health care antiseptics requires 30 sec. contact.
  • Causes of food borne illnesses include viruses and parasites. In fact, according to the CDC, only 51 percent of foodborne disease outbreaks are ascribed to bacteria. This raises the question whether food handler antiseptics should be tested for effectiveness against viruses and possibly parasites as well. FDA has resisted allowing viral claims for other OTC antiseptics.
  • The potential risk of indirect exposure to antiseptics by consumers due to transfer from the hands from food handlers to food raises questions also.

FDA has established a docket to obtain data, information and comments related to the assessment of the safety and effectiveness of food handler antiseptics. Questions range from determination of eligibility, current conditions of use, and safety and effectiveness criteria and evaluation.

Particularly, the eligibility of active ingredients for the OTC Drug Review may become a hurdle. A product is eligible for the OTC Drug Review if its conditions of use existed in the OTC drug marketplace on or before May 11, 1972, or if drug products with the same conditions of use have been marketed for a material time and extent such that they meet the requirements for eligibility under FDA’s time and extent application (TEA) regulation. FDA indicates that it anticipates that few if any products are eligible based on marketing before May 11, 1972. Thus, evidence of marketing for a material time and extent will be needed. Because no call for data or information about food handler antiseptics then on the market was issued in the 1970s at the inception of the OTC drug review, it may be nearly impossible to identify what products are eligible. Perhaps OTC monograph review will allow FDA and the industry to sidestep this thorny issue.

Comments must be submitted by Feb. 5, 2019.