It’s Summer in the City and the back of my neck, and just about everything else, is getting dirty and gritty.  The FTC, however, just announced two cases reminding advertisers to keep it clean on claims that their products can sanitize.

The FTC sued Angel Sales, Inc. and Zadro Health Solutions, as well as the two companies’ principals, alleging that the companies’ claims that their ultraviolet light devices could kill everything from foot fungus to MRSA were unsubstantiated and therefore deceptive.  The companies settled the FTC’s charges by agreeing to substantial monetary judgments and injunctive relief prohibiting such claims in the future.  In 2011, the FTC settled similar charges against Oreck for its UV vacuum cleaner.

Angel Sales sold the shUVee device as a means of sanitizing shoes and keeping them odor and bacteria free, claiming that the UV light reached all the way into the toes where bacteria live.  Angel Sales claimed that the device would:  kill over 95% of germs, bacteria, and the fungus responsible for MRSA; kill over 99% of common foot dwelling pathogens including those that cause foot odor; and kill the germs and fungus that cause Athlete’s Foot.

Zadro Health sold UV wands and scanners that it claimed killed 99% of germs and bacteria when used on surfaces, food, bedding, and in water in as little as 10 seconds, including such nasty things as eColi, Salmonella and the H1N1 virus.

The FTC alleged that both companies also represented that the challenged claims were scientifically proven.  According to the FTC, both companies lacked the science to back up those claims.  Although not explicit in the FTC’s complaint and order, I suspect that the companies lacked testing to show these products worked as claimed in the real world as opposed to a limited laboratory setting.

Both companies sold their products directly on their websites, as well as in prominent retail catalogs and websites, many of which the FTC identified in its press release.

Both companies agreed to similar orders that provided for six figure monetary judgments, which were largely suspended based on an ability to pay.  The orders also prohibit similar claims going forward unless the companies possess competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the claim.  Consistent with other FTC settlements after the POM case, the order did not require any specific number of studies or tests to substantiate claims.

These cases demonstrate that health claims of almost any nature are likely to draw the FTC’s attention.  Thus, our advice “keep it clean” and make sure you have good science to back up any health claim.  If you don’t, you might find yourself uttering some of the 7 dirty words.