In a time of hand sanitizer shortages and price gouging, local distilleries can step in to help their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. With all the necessary equipment to make alcohol on site, distilleries are just a few steps removed from hand sanitizer production. While hand washing with soap is the best way to kill germs, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a close second.
In the U.S., covid-19 diagnoses began their sharp increase toward the end of February. Around the same time, between Feb. 22-29, U.S. hand sanitizer sales increased by 313.4 percent, and Google searches for hand sanitizer shot up. Since the end of February, hand sanitizers have been hard to come by in stores and online.
The quick spread of the coronavirus has led people to empty stores of hand sanitizers.
Meeting a Need
Distilleries are well-equipped to meet some of this new demand. Part of the distillation process produces alcohol that can't be consumed. In Shine's case, this byproduct had been serving as the restaurant's disinfecting agent. After confirming with local authorities that he could use the alcohol to make hand sanitizers, as long as he wasn't making medical claims or selling it, Shine owner Jon Poteet began bottling homemade sanitizer.
Poteet added Xanthan gum to thicken the alcohol solution, put in a bit of water, and bottled the sanitizer. The finished product is 80 percent alcohol, exceeding the CDC's recommendation that hand sanitizers be at least 60 percent alcohol.
In Belgium, distilleries are producing disinfectant alcohol, not for the public, but for hospitals, health organizations, doctors and pharmacists. The Brussels Times reports that one distillery, Rubbens, is making 10,000 liters each day. Other distilleries have since ramped up production of disinfectant alcohol.
Hand Sanitizing vs. Handwashing
All this being said, hand sanitizer only helps when used properly. The CDC advises using the amount indicated by instructions on the hand sanitizer bottle and rubbing it all over both hands until dry. Even then, there is some evidence that some microbes may adapt to alcohol over time.
A 2018 study found that the rates of certain infections increased after hospitals widely adopted hand sanitizer, suggesting that newer strains of the bacteria Enterococcus faecium had developed an alcohol tolerance. While this does not mean that hand sanitizer is ineffective against the coronavirus, it does offer more support to the idea that handwashing is preferable to hand sanitizer when possible.
Hand washing is still the best way to kill germs.
As the pandemic continues and the number of COVID-19 cases rise, distilleries will be stretched thin. A check of Old Fourth's website on March, 18 reveals that they're now only providing free hand sanitizer to first responders, and not to the public. More distilleries are joining the hand sanitizer production efforts, however, and Shine has been sharing their recipe with other distillery owners. As of March 18, distilleries in Oregon, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, New York, Washington, and California have joined in on hand sanitizer production. That list may grow in the coming days and weeks, as the virus continues to spread and commercial hand sanitizer demand shows no sign of slowing.