Hundreds of distilled spirits producers across the country have responded to the COVID-19 crisis by producing needed supplies of hand sanitizer.
Distillers are fulfilling a critical community need and providing the hand sanitizer to health care professionals, first responders, and local and state governments.
Phillips Distilling Co. in Princeton recently produced its fourth, 50-gallon batch of topical alcohol antiseptic, said Vice President Patty Pelzer.
“We aren’t producing huge quantities,” she said. The company is putting the hand sanitizer in 1.75-liter bottles.
Most recently, cases of the hand sanitizer were donated to the city of Princeton’s Emergency Management Team, which includes police, fire, and public works.
The Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office recently received three cases of sanitizer, which is being used at county facilities and shared with community partners.
Phillips is producing the sanitizer in a pilot plant located in the company’s Princeton lab, Pelzer said. “We don’t want to expose the plant to the denaturing agent that we have to use, because it creates bitterness in our production lines.”
Hand sanitizer that’s produced within the World Health Organization formula is considered a drug under U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules, Pelzer said.
“We had a lot of conversations about doing this when the government relaxed rules surrounding the production of hand sanitizer after COVID-19 broke out.”
There is a bittering agent that’s added to the topical alcohol antiseptic during the production process, Pelzer explained.
That denaturing agent makes the hand sanitizer non-potable. You can’t drink it.
“Normally, we don’t do this in our plant, because everything we produce is beverage-grade or has alcohol content,” Pelzer said. “We are soliciting the government and trying to get it to agree to our request not to denature the alcohol,” she added. “We are doing this on a much smaller scale because of that.”
So far, Phillips Distilling Co. in Princeton has distributed the hand sanitizer to long-term care facilities, medical personnel, and emergency management.
“We’ve entered our second round of distribution with emergency management, and the long-term care facilities have come back in need of refills at this point,” Pelzer said. The 1.75-liter bottles are packed in four-bottle, cardboard cases.
“Some people have only requested bottles and some people have requested cases of it, depending upon how big their facility is,” Pelzer said, adding that Phillips worked with the city of Princeton to find out specific quantity needs.
“They are only taking as much as they need,” she added. “We’ll keep producing hand sanitizer to maintain the supply to the police and fire departments and law enforcement in Mille Lacs County and Sherburne County.”
The WHO hand sanitizer formula doesn’t produce a familiar hand jell, Pelzer said.
“This is a liquid that gets sprayed,” she explained. “The sanitizer is removed from the 1.75 liter bottles and put into spray bottles that are used to treat surfaces.”
When the company found out that producing hand sanitizer as part of the COVID-19 relief effort was possible, Phillips started by looking at the potential impact to the plant, and the regulatory considerations the company had to overcome.
“It was quite a momentous task actually,” Pelzer said. “That’s when we came to the conclusion we would use our pilot lab and do local community deliveries.’
Two employees were involved with making the company’s first batch of hand sanitizer, Pelzer said. Many more employees have volunteered for the effort.
“We’ve had to limit things, because the lab isn’t that large, and we are using social distancing” she said. “We are starting to look at ways to label the bottles in advance to save time. That label is produced according to WHO specifications.”
Other smaller distillers and brewers are getting involved with the COVID-19-related production of hand sanitizer Pelzer said. “We are just glad to help out,” she added. “That was our initial intention. Whatever we can do to help, we’ll do it. If the government allows us to denature this, we’ll do more.”