Coronavirus: Alberta distilleries make hand sanitizer amid COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video: 'Alberta distilleries make hand sanitizer amid COVID-19 pandemic'
Alberta distilleries make hand sanitizer amid COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH ABOVE: The COVID-19 crisis has upended business plans for countless companies, forcing them to adapt and to innovate. As Fletcher Kent explains, some distilleries are going from spirits to sanitizers. – Mar 19, 2020

As businesses continue to deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, some Alberta distilleries have made a shift in the product they produce.

A distillery in Medicine Hat is now making hand sanitizer. Grit City Distillery owner Jen Schmunk said she and her husband, Andy, want to do their part.

“The entire city is kind of in a sticky situation,” she told The Canadian Press.

“Everyone is looking for hand sanitizer everywhere so instead of making alcohol, sanitizer is what the necessity is now, so we’re kind of changing up our priorities right now.”

Schmunk said they want to supply the entire city with free hand sanitizer. The distillery needs help from the public, though. It is asking people who have spare aloe vera gel or glycerin to drop it off at the distillery, which is located at 690 South Railway St. SE.

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Hansen Distillery in west Edmonton has spent the past week or so working on making a hand sanitizer or disinfectant of some kind.

“We would classify it as more of a disinfectant, than a hand sanitizer,” said spokesperson Natalie Harper.

She said it sort of started as a joke, but then they realized they could possibly make it happen.

“All of a sudden, we started getting some serious inquiries as things started getting more serious across the province,” Harper said.

“So we had to quickly look into it, we contacted provincial and federal authorities.”

Harper said the product would be made from a waste byproduct that comes from a batch of spirits. Because it’s not desirable, Harper said the waste is typically thrown out or used for cleaning equipment.

“We are currently looking into how we take that byproduct and mix it with the required ingredients to turn it into a hand sanitizer. Those ingredients are also coming into scarce supply so we’re not even sure if it’s possible at this point. We’re doing everything that we can, of course,” she said.

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Harper said the distillery has been working with provincial and federal authorities to ensure everything is compliant, and got the go-ahead about two days ago to proceed to work on the disinfectant.

She said the distillery has several social agencies interested in the product. Hansen Distillery is working on the best way to bottle and distribute the product for use by the social agencies to help the city’s most vulnerable residents.

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Harper said the distillery should know by early next week when and how the product will be available to the public.

Annex Ale Project in Calgary is working with a local distillery to use its wash — a strong beer — to make ethanol.

Andrew Bullied with Annex Ale Project said after that, they blend up their hand sanitizer recipe, which was sent out by the World Health Organization.

“The interest has been so strong so far that we need to buy denatured alcohol to keep up. Local distillers won’t be able to make enough,” Bullied said Thursday.

The hand sanitizer will be packaged into 473-milliletre cans, to be sold as a “hand Sanitizer Refill.” Customers will need to open the can and transfer the product into a sealable container, such as a soap or shampoo bottle, Bullied explained.

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The plan is to make as much sanitizer as possible, as the company as been “totally overwhelmed” by requests, Bullied said.

“We are hoping to be able to do 10,000 cans a week, but we will see what we can organize,” he said.

“We are doing this because there is a critical shortage of these products. We would consider completely suspending beer production to meet demand. We will be donating stock to food banks, homeless shelters, senior care facilities, women’s shelters and other services that need these products,” he continued.

Bullied said a large Calgary grocery retailer has also committed to taking the product. The retailer will be announced when the product hits the shelves.

“We promise that this will be priced as fairly as possible to just cover our costs and keep our employees fed.”

Bullied said he is working with his partner, Euan Thomson at Raft Beer Labs, to put together a package that explains the licensing and formulation, to share with other brewers and distillers.

“We would like to see this rolled out nationally.”

Bullied said the company is working with Alberta Health Services to get approval to put the product out and also has a licence pending with Health Canada.

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On Wednesday, Health Canada announced it is waving some of its usual regulatory requirements to increase supplies of hand sanitizers, disinfectants, swabs and personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns used to help contain the spread of COVID-19.

Due to “unprecedented demand” for such products, Health Canada says it will temporarily allow them to be sold in this country even if they don’t meet the normal regulatory requirements.

The temporary waiver will apply to products that are already authorized for sale in Canada but aren’t fully compliant with Health Canada regulations on things such as bilingual labelling or the type of packaging to be used.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Police investigating man who allegedly hoarded hand sanitizer'
Coronavirus outbreak: Police investigating man who allegedly hoarded hand sanitizer

It will also apply to products not authorized for sale in Canada but which are approved in other jurisdictions with what the department calls “similar regulatory frameworks and quality assurances.”

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Health Canada says it’s also expediting approvals of products and will expedite approvals of applications for licences to sell the products in Canada.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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