WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Distilleries across the nation making hand sanitizer during the pandemic narrowly escaped hefty fines from the Food and Drug Administration.

Winston-Salem’s Broad Branch Distillery started producing hand sanitizer in spring of 2020 to help with increasing demand. The distillery gave sanitizer to first responders, medical workers, schools, and customers for free.

“We saw a way to switch over from what we were doing to a production that would help our community, help our state,” says distiller Joe Tappe. “We thought how crazy would it be for them to all of a sudden decide to then charge us this exorbitant fee in a surprise manner, kind of the last minute.”

Tappe says they were devastated when the FDA demanded over $14,000 in fines on December 30.

The FDA says hand sanitizer is considered an over-the-counter drug, so hundreds of distilleries technically dove into drug manufacturing without realizing. The FDA says the World Health Organization has its own separate guidelines to be followed for hand sanitizer production.

Backlash from distillers quickly reached the federal agencies, and within a day, the FDA retracted the major fines.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is allowing distilleries to continue distributing the hand sanitizer made in 2020.

Broad Branch is relieved, and will continue sharing what they’ve already made.

“Everybody sort of said, ‘yeah, this is not how we treat the organizations and folks in the community that stepped up’. We’re so grateful for the appreciation of our community,” Tappe says.

More than 30 distilleries in North Carolina have converted their efforts to produce hand sanitizer since the start of the pandemic.