SANTA FE SPRINGS ( — The president and CEO of Bumble Bee Foods has posted an open letter Friday, expressing the company’s shock and sadness at the death of an employee at a plant in Santa Fe Springs.

Bumble Bee employee Jose Melena was found inside one of the plant’s commercial pressure cookers just before 7 a.m. on Oct. 11, Chris Lischewski, president and CEO of Bumble Bee Foods, said in the open letter. Melena, 62, was a skilled operator and had worked with this equipment for many years, so how the accident happened remains unclear, Lischewski said.

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“All of us at Bumble Bee Foods were shocked and saddened by this loss, and as we search for answers, our prayers and support are with the Melena family,” Lischewski said in the letter.

Melena was found inside one of the plant’s commercial pressure cookers, 38-foot-long cylindrical chambers called retorts, where baskets of sealed cans of product are sterilized before they are labeled. Lischewski said it takes between 20 and 30 minutes to load a retort with about 12 to 14 baskets of canned product to be sterilized. Melena’s primary responsibility was to load these baskets with a pallet jack.

Once the baskets are finished processing, they are pulled out of the retort by a forklift, Lichewski said. Company officials don’t believe a similar accident has ever occurred with this machinery.

All product being processed at the time of the accident was discarded safely, even though there was no product contamination.

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Whittier Police and CalOSHA were both called to the plant on the day of the accident. Whittier police told the company they have ruled out foul play, but CalOSHA says their investigation into the accident could take several months to complete.

CalOSHA cleared the factory to resume operations that day, but the company decided to remain closed out of respect for Melena and “in recognition of the emotional impact this had on his co-workers.”

Lichewski says grief counselors have been made available to employees since the accident.


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