Tuna Plant Reopens, Authorities Investigating Employee's Death

Cal-OSHA continues its investigation on how worker Jose Melena, 62, was cooked to death at a Bumble Bee Seafoods plant.

The Bumble Bee Foods' canning factory reopened Monday morning in Santa Fe Springs, however, an investigation is under way after a worker was accidentally cooked in a steamer machine.

Authorities said Jose Melena, 62, was pronounced dead at the scene, at 7 a.m. Thursday. They also added it was unclear how Melena ended up in the oven. 

California Division of Occupational Safety and Health Department of Industrial Relations Spokesman Peter Melton said, Cal-OSHA has launched an investigation into the accident which it has six months to complete. 

If the investigation finds the factory did violate state health and safety regulations, Bumble Bee Foods will face civil penalties, according to Cal-OSHA. 

Bumble Bee Foods' Vice President of Human Resources, Pat Menke, also issued a statement through its public relations firm: "A fatal accident occurred at the Bumble Bee Foods’ Santa Fe Springs processing plant early morning of Thursday, Oct. 11. The accident resulted in the death of Jose Melena, a six-year employee at the facility. The entire Bumble Bee Foods family is saddened by the tragic loss of our colleague, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Melena family. Investigation into the accident continues as operations resume at the facility Monday. It remains our first priority to support and assist the Melena family during this very difficult time.”   

Bumble Bee also said: Its food quality was “very important” and the quality of its product was not effected by the accident."

 “ ... Due to the nature of the accident, food safety was not compromised and we are cooperating with safety officials to determine the cause of the accident." 

According to the Whittier Police Department, even though it is investigating the incident, it has been turned "into an industrial accident," said Community Relations Officer Brad White. 

Bumble Bee products are sold in local supermarkets such as Ralphs, Gelson's and Albertsons.

Several Patch readers have commented on the story: 

Edgar: I worked in a cannery when I was in hight school, the oven is probably a large retort that you can walk into, it has a steel floor and your load thousands of cans in steel carts that have just been packed an sealed. About four carts will fit in a retort and are pushed in by hand normally, once the retort is loaded you make a visual check from back to front to make ceratin no one is still in the retort, you then close a huge round door with seals, you tighten a huge wing bold and latch, then you turn on the white hot steam and cook the cans for an hour while recording the temperature on a paper disk and the batch number from the can lids, once they have been cooked they are brought out and sprayed with cold water, once they are cooled they are then sent to a label machine for labels, then boxed for shipment. If the person was alive it only took seconds as the white hot steam would kill a person in seconds, it is possible he sliped and was knocked out and no one saw him on the floor and proceed with the process. 

Betsy: Trust me. The owners/operators are forced to think about safety-- all the time. The financial backers look at safety, the insurers look at safety, and the company looks at safety. Whether that look at safety was sufficient and appropriate will take an investigation. Just please do not jump to simple conclusions. I earn my income from safety evaluations-- just trust me, there are many layers to peel off and assess.

Gloria Benson: I worked in a food plant in the mid 70's and it was very clean and safety focused. This is a terrible accident and my thoughts and prayers go out to the victim and his family. I've read many of the circumstances listed above that could have caused this and I wonder what did happen to cause this man to be cooked alive. My condolences to his family. 

You can read more comments here.

Yon Spivey October 16, 2012 at 10:47 PM
could this have been a halloween prank gone bad?


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