As it became clear that the coronavirus was on track to become a global pandemic, WHO and other health officials recommended that people use hand sanitizer to protect themselves and stop the spread of the virus. As a result, consumers bought hand sanitizer in large amounts, emptying the shelves at grocery stores and pharmacies. Unfortunately, this left first responders and health care workers without easy access to hand sanitizer.
In response to the urgent need for more sanitizer, the FDA relaxed production regulations, which allowed distilleries to use their equipment to contribute to the cause and start making and bottling hand sanitizer. The FDA is responsible for overseeing the safe production of food and drugs. Historically, they have tight regulations concerning the production of hand sanitizer, but they have made some concessions in light of recent events.
Hand sanitizer that is produced by distilleries still has to meet certain standards for purity and alcohol content and must contain an ingredient that makes it taste bitter in order to discourage consumption. This has made it possible to funnel safe and effective hand sanitizer to the areas and people who need it most.
How Hand Sanitizer is Made
Distilleries are surprisingly well-equipped to quickly make the transition to producing high-quality hand sanitizer. The process begins with milling grain, which is then put through a fermentation process that takes a few days.
From there, the grain is distilled until it reaches a high-proof alcohol. In order to create an effective and moisturizing final product, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and aloe are added. The final product must be tested and contain 60-70% alcohol before it can be bottled and distributed.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the alcohol industry and distillers have become unlikely heroes by using their skills and resources to fill a glaring need. While there is no way to quantify the effects of their work, their willingness to help has surely saved lives and provided many vulnerable workers with access to hand sanitizer.
What remains to be seen is how quickly the distilleries are able to convert back to business as usual once the pandemic subsides. They may need time and financial support to ensure their equipment is safe for producing drinkable alcohol again.
Have FDA regulations changed on the type of alcohol that can be used for hand sanitizer?
Yes, in the wake of the coronavirus and shortages of hand sanitizer, which has been deemed essential in fighting the virus, the FDA has relaxed certain regulations concerning the production of hand sanitizer. Plants that produce ethanol, including distilleries, are working to convert production to hand sanitizer while still ensuring a safe and effective product. The FDA is still working to ensure purity and proper equipment usage while working with producers to allow them to contribute to efforts to curb the virus.
Why is this important?
When the coronavirus first began to spread, health officials urged people to wash their hands and use hand sanitizer. This triggered a buying spree that emptied store shelves and left vulnerable populations, including first responders, without hand sanitizer. Allowing distilleries to produce hand sanitizer is addressing an urgent need.
Who has this helped?
Increased production of hand sanitizer from distilleries has allowed first responders, health care professionals and other essential employees who are working on the frontlines to have access to disinfectants.
How is it made?
Distilleries are using grain to produce hand sanitizer. The grain goes through a milling, fermentation and distillation process until a high-proof alcohol is created. At that point, glycerin, aloe and hydrogen peroxide are added in order to provide a moisturizing product. Before it is bottled, the product is evaluated to make sure that it meets both CDC and WHO guidelines, which recommend an alcohol content of 60% to 70%. One of the biggest challenges distilleries are facing when it comes to producing hand sanitizer is finding enough supplies for bottling.