(04/17/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — Tenants of the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator are still churning out their products, but they are taking extra safety measures in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our tenants are working hard to maintain production so customers can continue to find these items on grocery store shelves,” said incubator director Gaye Sandoz.
Tenants have been instructed to not come to incubator production facilities if they’re experiencing symptoms of illness. Their temperatures are checked when they arrive.
Tenants and those helping them in the kitchen — currently limited to just their family members — must wash their hands before starting production and each time they change gloves, which is required every 30 minutes. They must keep 6 feet of distance between themselves and others.
Surfaces and equipment are being sanitized more frequently. Hair nets have always been mandatory; face masks are now, too.
Incubator staff members are keeping a detailed visitor log, which includes delivery and freight drivers. The staff is working remotely, with only one staff member allowed on-site at a time to ensure safety protocols are being followed.
The changes allow tenants to continue producing items that customers in Louisiana and beyond have come to love, such as condiments, snacks, baked goods and beverages.
“Because of the stay-at-home order, people are eating more often at home now,” Sandoz said. “This also is a stressful time for many. Being able to find your favorite local products at the store to enjoy during a family dinner can be comforting. It’s also a great way to support our economy and local small businesses.”
Richard Hanley, who makes salad dressings and other items at the incubator, said his food service sales to restaurants, hotels, catering businesses and similar clients have dried up. But his retail sales have increased by 100% since the coronavirus outbreak began.
“I strongly believe we would be out of business if we weren’t able to use the incubator to make product,” he said. “As a small business, we need our sales to survive and pay our bills, vendors and operating expenses.”
Online orders for Hanley’s Foods products have gone up, he said. His wife, Kate Hanley, is handling that part of the business.
“Kate’s personal training business, which helps with our personal income, disappeared in March, but she is very thankful that she can still work with Hanley’s,” Richard Hanley said. “She started doing all the online orders, which have spiked 200%, and loves doing it. She writes little thank-you notes to each order for a better customer experience.”
Richard Hanley works in the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator kitchen recently. Photo provided