Companies Step Up to Produce Needed Supplies for COVID-19 Fight

Companies Step Up to Produce Needed Supplies for COVID-19 Fight

With shortages of PPE and hand sanitizer, alcoholic drink producers and others are switching production to support front line workers

Rachel Muenz

Trying to make light of the tough situation the world finds itself in with the current COVID-19 pandemic, there are plenty of images circulating social media of people using underwear as face masks due to shortages.

But now a company best known for producing undergarments is joining the fight to solve the serious issue of personal protective equipment shortages—particularly N-95 face masks—for health care workers.

On Mar. 23, HanesBrands announced that it is switching garment production to three-ply cotton masks approved by the US Food and Drug Administration “for use when N-95 masks are not required or available.” This will help ensure that N-95 face masks are used only in cases where they are truly needed.

HanesBrands is just one company in a consortium of other clothing producers led by yarn manufacturer Parkdale Mills America that are setting aside production capacity for face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HanesBrands said that it worked with the US Department of Health and Human Services to come up with the specifications and design of the masks and is sharing that information with other consortium members, which in addition to Parkdale Mills include the National Council of Textile Organizations, Beverly Knits, SanMar, and Fruit of the Loom.

The company aims to produce 1.5 million face masks each week, while the consortium will produce 5-6 million masks in total each week.

In China, Foxconn Technology Group, which supplies iPhone parts to Apple, has also shifted to producing face masks, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Ramping up hand sanitizer production

Other companies are filling the growing need for hand sanitizer, with several well-known alcohol producers switching from producing beverages to sanitizers.

Canadian brewer Labatt Breweries announced Mar. 22 that it will produce 50,000 bottles of hand sanitizer for front line workers as well as those working in Canadian food banks and the restaurant and bar industry. Several independent brewers north of the border have also joined the hand sanitizer production effort, according to Global News.

PerkinElmer's Hand Sanitizer Analyzer helps ensure sanitizer produced by distillers meets UPS and FDA guidelines.

Elsewhere, rum producer Bacardi Corporation announced Mar. 19 that its distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico has teamed up with Olein Refinery, also based in Puerto Rico, to produce the ingredients needed for more than 1.7 million 10-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer. The sanitizer is 70 percent alcohol, fitting with the guidelines recommended by most health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. 

“We are extremely grateful to Bacardi for adjusting its production to provide us with raw material so that we may ramp up production of the disinfectants we need to help keep the people of Puerto Rico safe,” said Jorge González, president of Olein Refinery, in a press release.

Other spirits makers joining the hand sanitizer production effort include Pernod Ricard SA, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (parent company of Labatt), and BrewDog.

Meanwhile, other companies are providing support to those who are switching to producing hand sanitizer for the first time. For example, PerkinElmer recently released a Hand Sanitizer Analyzer to help ensure the sanitizer produced by these companies meets the guidelines for safety and effectiveness set by the USP and FDA.  With the potential of fake hand sanitizers making their way into the market, the device can also ensure the authenticity of hand sanitizers within seconds.

Universities are also helping distillers who have become first-time hand sanitizer producers. Cornell University is helping the nearly 40 distilleries across New York who have switched to producing the critical substance ensure they are getting the supplies they need and answering any questions they have about sanitizer production.

“It’s been an interesting pivot for distilleries into this world,” said Chris Gerling, senior extension associate in food science at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York, in a press release. “I have been parsing regulations and trying to keep distillers safe. Making hand sanitizer is not for hobbyists; this is for professionals."