Alcohol companies combat COVID 19 hand sanitizer shortages

2 Apr 2020

Amid shortages of the topical disinfectant, both local and international distilleries in the United States are repurposing high-proof ethanol alcohol as branded hand sanitizers and donating it to those in need.

Earlier this month, The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau waived portions of the U.S. internal revenue law to permit ethanol-based sanitizer production. Likewise, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a temporary policy that permits pharmacists and compounders to produce alcohol-based hand sanitizers for the duration of the COVID-19 health emergency. While the intent is to supplement commercial producers that are unable to keep a sufficient supply on shelves, not just any formulation is acceptable. The FDA is strictly regulating the recipe. Hand sanitizer, according to the governmental agency, must contain ethanol alcohol at 80%, glycerol, hydrogen peroxide and sterile water.

Alcohol companies combat COVID 19 hand sanitizer shortages

To kill germs effectively, the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention specifies that alcohol-based hand sanitizers must have an alcohol concentration between 60-95%.

Distilleries, including Pernod Ricard, Diageo and Anheuser-Busch are now taking part in hand sanitizer production efforts and donating the product to charities, non-profits and medical professionals help fight COVID-19.

"In times like this it is important that everyone, especially companies with strong U.S. roots, like ours, prioritize good corporate citizenship and step up in the name of the greater good. I am glad that we were able to form this public/private partnership and repurpose our spirits production facilities to meet a pressing, national need," said Ann Mukherjee, Chairman and CEO, Pernod Ricard North America in a release. Pernod Ricard makes Absolut Vodka and Jameson Whiskey.

Drink makers are already in possession of vast quantities of ethanol as it is the basic ingredient required to make liquor, and with the manufacturing capacity of these international distilleries focused on producing the gel disinfectant, these companies are reportedly churning out tens of thousands of liters of hand sanitizer.

This push for distillery-produced hand sanitizer is partially in response to the FDA working to curtail the production of homemade sanitizer, which can be detrimental to one’s health. “ (The) FDA recommends that consumers do not make their own hand sanitizer. If made incorrectly, hand sanitizer can be ineffective, and there have been reports of skin burns from homemade hand sanitizer,” according to the agency’s website.

Providing this ethanol-based disinfectant is also a strategy for alcohol companies to stay top of mind with consumers. Well-known alcohol brands have taken a financial hit as bars, restaurants and hotels have closed worldwide. The French spirits maker, Pernod Ricard cut its fiscal guidance for 2020 by 20%. By passing out branded hand sanitizer, the company remains an integral part of the lives of thousands in a novel way that may lead to future sales from grateful hand sanitizer users.

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