Bumble Bee seafood officials remain stumped over the death of a plant worker who was cooked to death in an industrial oven last month.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which is investigating the death, said it could take months to produce a final report, because worker fatality investigations typically take three to four months to complete.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Bumble Bee Foods executives have identified the worker as Jose Melena, 62. He had worked at the Sante Fe Springs, California site for six years.
Chris Lischewski, president and chief executive officer of Bumble Bee Foods, told local KTLA News that at this point, it’s still not clear how this could have happened.
According to Lischewski, Melena was responsible for operating a pallet jack that loads a retort machine, the pressure cooker, with 12 to 14 baskets of canned product at a time.
Lischewski said it typically takes 20 to 30 minutes to load the retort. Once the baskets are finished processing, they are pulled out by a forklift.
Lischewski added that upon discovering the accident, plant management called for emergency medical help, contacted the police and the state division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The cooking device that injured the man was described in coroner’s documents as a “steamer machine.” Paramedics rushed to the plant and pronounced Melena dead as soon as they arrived. No one else was injured.
Officials told the Long Beach Press-Telegram that the Bumble Bee plant did not have a history of safety violations.
Family members said Melena worked the late shift, placing tuna in large steamers. They said they were shocked by his death but said they believe it was part of God’s plan.
His son, Antonio Melena, told KCBS-TV Channel 2 that the family is still trying to come to terms with what happened.
“It’s hard to believe what’s going on. And what’s happening. It’s just been really tough,” the son said. “He was just grateful he had a job, that he could pay his bills and provide food for his family.”
The initial investigation indicated that, “he was fatally injured when he was cooked in an oven,” California Division of Occupational Safety and Health spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said.
By OSHA policy, an investigation is to be completed within six months, Monterroza said. It will include visits to the tuna-canning plant, extensive interviews and a review of company safety documentation.
“Once all of the facts are gathered, at that point, a determination will be made if California health and safety regulations were violated,” she said.
His family gathered in Melena’s front yard where he kept his garden and was meticulous in its upkeep.
Said his son, “He wanted it to be an example for us, to be honest, truthful and hard working. And I very much remember everything from my dad.”