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Bumble Bee releases more details of worker's pressure cooker death

October 22, 2012 | 12:59 pm

Bumble Bee Foods executives have released more details about the harrowing death of a worker who was cooked to death in an industrial accident earlier this month at their processing plant in Santa Fe Springs.

Jose Melena, 62, had worked at the plant for six years and "was found by his co-workers inside one of the plant's commercial pressure cookers" shortly before 7 a.m. on Oct. 11, according to an "open letter to the community" from Bumble Bee Foods President and Chief Executive Chris Lischewski.

"These 38-foot-long cylindrical chambers, called retorts, are where baskets of sealed cans of product are sterilized before heading to the final labeling stage of the canning process," read the letter, which was released Friday. "Jose was a skilled operator and had worked with this equipment for many years."

According to Lischewski, it is unclear how Melena wound up inside the pressure cooker and he said that "we are not aware of any such accident ever occurring before with this machinery."

Typically, he said, it takes 20 to 30 minutes to load a retort -- one of the long cylindrical chambers -- with 12 to 14 baskets of canned product.

"The baskets are loaded by an employee operating a pallet jack. This was Jose's primary responsibility. Once the baskets are finished processing, they are pulled out of the retort by a forklift," according to the letter.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health is investigating the death, and Bumble Bee Foods said they were also conducting their own inquiry and added that the Whittier Police Department, which has a contract with Sante Fe Springs, "has informed us that they have ruled out foul play."

Executives at the company also said they were "implementing mandatory retraining of all personnel on standard operating procedures, reviewing all safety procedures and stressing the importance of following procedures to maximize employee safety," according to the letter.

Outside of work,  Melena was known for helping other gardeners at the San Pedro All Year Gardens, where he had a plot for almost two decades. His garden included chili peppers, avocados and squash pears known as chayotes.

Francisco Garcia of Long Beach, another gardener, said last week at the San Pedro community farm that Melena "didn't deserve that kind of death."


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