(Courtesy Dixon’s Distilled Spirits)

The University of Guelph is lending a helping hand to a local distiller producing hand sanitizer for health workers and essential services.

With a shortage of sanitizer across the country, several Ontario distilleries have begun switching from producing gin, vodka and other liquors to bottling hand sanitizer.

When Prof. Scott Weese, the head of infection control at U of G’s Ontario Veterinary College, heard that Guelph-based Dixon’s Distilled Spirits planned to do the same, he asked if he could help.

He showed them the recipe the World Health Organization recommends, which calls for at least 70 per cent alcohol — an ingredient Dixon’s already had in storage. What was also needed was glycerol (sometimes called glycerin) and hydrogen peroxide — two chemicals often used in labs.

“We use glycerol for various things in our labs, such as preserving bacteria. But it’s also important in hand sanitizer because if you just use straight alcohol, it’s really hard on the skin,” Weese said.

a headshot of Prof. Scott Weese
Prof. Scott Weese

“Peroxide is something else you see in every lab for disinfection and other uses. So I put a call out across the U of G campus to see if other labs could donate what they had as well.”

Altogether, Weese estimates they were able to supply the distiller with 50 litres of glycerol and several litres of peroxide — enough to make at least 2,000 litres of hand sanitizer, which was then poured into hundreds of 120-mL bottles. A local printing company, Minuteman Pres, stepped in to create the labels.

The sanitizer has now been donated to several local medical clinics and doctors’ offices, the Guelph Fire Department, the local OPP dispatch, Guelph-Wellington Paramedic Service, Wyndham House and more.

“This has been such a great initiative that a lot of people contributed to and we were just happy to help in whatever small way we could,” Weese said.

Weese said a local chemical supplier, FloChem, saw his request on Facebook for further help and is now providing the distiller with peroxide. The next goal is to find a long-term, commercial donor of glycerol.

Dixon’s Distilled Spirits owner Vicky Dixon said she and her co-workers are working as fast as they can to fill bottles, with front line medical workers and emergency responders the first priority in receiving the final products.

“We’re incredibly grateful to Scott (Weese) for his valuable assistance and the amount of time he has put into this project,” she said.

Weese, for his part, is happy to be helping fellow health workers in whatever way he can: “These are people who really need this sanitizing tool so they can keep working through this pandemic and I’ve been really impressed with all the effort they’ve put into this.”

U of G is currently working with Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health to determine whether there are other supplies the University can provide to local organizations to help in the pandemic response. All donations will be coordinated through Public Health.