Demand for fresh meat and poultry has not diminished but, because of COVID-19 outbreaks in facilities across the U.S., meat processing plants are struggling to keep up.

In an effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19, keep plant employees, inspectors and consumers safe, a team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is sharing a new supply of hand sanitizers with the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA, like many others, is experiencing difficulties because of the short supply of hand sanitizer. 

The hand sanitizer will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 through the more than 6,500 meat-processing facilities across the country. Thanks to an innovative partnership between Nebraska’s ethanol industry and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the university has supplied the USDA with more than 6,800 gallons of hand sanitizer, with more hand sanitizer on its way to the USDA in the coming weeks.

The team has also distributed more than 60,000 gallons of the product to the state government and local public health officials, along with frontline health care providers and first responders.

“This project represents the true grit of Nebraskans and the innovative ways the agriculture community joins together to take care of one another,” said Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman. “We appreciate the dedication and donations that the ethanol industry, hard hit by this virus themselves, has made to see this project through, as well as the perseverance of the Food Processing Center staff to create a product that will help slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Green Plains Inc. operates 13 biorefineries across the United States and has donated a significant amount to the project from its York, NE, facility. The alcohol is higher in purity and quality than traditional fuel-grade ethanol. Green Plains does not sell any fuel-grade alcohol for use in disinfectants or sanitizers.

“During this health emergency, Green Plains and its employees feel a deep responsibility to do our part to help address this crisis in communities nationwide,” said Todd Becker, president and CEO of Green Plains. “We are pleased to donate high-quality, FDA approved, FCC Grade alcohol for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service team.”

Other various supplies have been provided by BASF, Cargill, Syngenta, Phillips 66 and the State of Nebraska, among others.

“I cannot say enough about the incredible generosity of our partners in the ethanol industry during an economically challenging time,” Hunter Flodman, an engineering professor of practice at Nebraska who has helped spearhead the project, said. “In this case, Green Plains is helping ensure that consumers get a safe product, whether they buy meat at a supermarket or a meat locker in their community.”

“It’s been a privilege for the Food Processing Center and its faculty and staff to contribute to this important project,” Terry Howell, executive director of the Food Processing Center at Nebraska Innovation Campus, said. “It’s humbling to be able to make a difference during this health care crisis.”

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