It doesn’t take much to convince us we need something new for the shoe closet – and our vintage high-tops and periwinkle platforms stand as a silent testament to that. But an ultraviolet light contraption advertised to kill germs, fungus, and bacteria, including MRSA, inside shoes? An FTC settlement with the marketers of shUVee gives the boot to those misleading claims. A second settlement turns the lights out on representations by other advertisers that their Nano-UV disinfecting devices kill microorganisms on all kinds of surfaces.
If you’ve spent much time on the tarmac, you may have seen these products advertised in the SkyMall in-flight magazine located in the seat pocket in front of you. (We’ve always wanted to say that.) Consumers also could buy them from major online retailers and catalogs. Angel Sales of Chicago claimed that shUVee “kills over 95% of germs, bacteria, even the fungus responsible for the highly contagious MRSA bacteria – in less than one hour.” For consumers itching to end Athlete’s Foot, the company said its product “kills germs and fungus” that cause it. The basic shUVee set buyers back about $100, while the “shUVee Deluxe with 2-piece Travel Unit” sold for $140.
Huntington Beach-based Zadro Health Solutions sold the Nano-UV Disinfection Scanner, the Nano-UV Wand, the Nano-UV Water Disinfectant for between $60 and $160. Ads claimed that the products “have been proven to eliminate 99.9% of targeted germs and viruses on surfaces and in water in as little as 10 seconds.” What were those “targeted germs and viruses”? Potential killers like “Salmonella, E. Coli, Staphylococcus Aureus, and the H1N1 virus.”
The Nano-UV Dual Scanner should have been a germaphobe’s dream, purportedly eliminating “99.99% of bacteria, mold, fungus and virus surface contaminants” with “a quick 10-second sweep” of its light. According to the company, those surfaces included potential yuck zones like public restrooms, litter boxes, hotel bedding, and – ironically enough – airplane seats.
The complaints shine a light on where the FTC says the companies went wrong. Despite claims that the UV products would kill virtually all disease-causing pathogens, the FTC alleges that Angel Sales and Zadro Health Solutions didn’t have appropriate proof to back up their promises, including their impressive-sounding scientific statistics.
The proposed orders require the companies to have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support all future claims about the health benefits, performance, or efficacy of any product or service. In addition, the orders specifically prohibit deceptive “scientifically proven” claims or misrepresentations about tests, studies, or research. Those requirements apply to the corporate defendants and to the individuals who ran the companies.
The order against Angel Sales includes a $656,423 judgment, which will be suspended due to the defendants’ financial condition. Zadro Health will pay $222,029 in consumer refunds, with the remainder of the $629,359 judgment suspended.
The settlements illuminate an important substantiation principle. Carefully consider the science in light of how consumers will use the product in a real-world setting. For example, UV light depends on exposure to have an effect. It can’t bend around objects, shine through opaque materials, or penetrate into porous items. Companies making UV disinfecting claims need to ensure what they say about their products matches up with the scientific evidence.