Bumble Bee Foods To Pay $6 Million After Worker Was Cooked To Death

| by Maura Turcotte

Nearly three years after a Bumble Bee Foods employee was cooked to death in an industrial oven in Santa Fe Springs, California, the canned-tuna maker finally plead guilty to the criminal charges.

On Oct. 11, 2012, 62-year-old Jose Melena entered a 35-foot oven for a routine operation, but became inadvertently trapped when two co-workers, unaware that Melena was inside, loaded 12,000 pounds of canned tuna into the oven to be sterilized.

After two hours, during which the oven’s temperature rose to about 270 degrees, Melena’s co-worker discovered his severely burned remains.

As a result, the tuna company was charged with three felony counts of willfully violating safety rules, causing death.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced the settlement agreement: Bumble Bee Foods will pay $6 million -- California’s largest payout for a workplace safety criminal case involving one victim, according to KTLA5.

“You don’t have warm blood running in your veins if you’re not affected by the way this guy died. It’s horrific,” Hoon Chun, assistant head deputy district attorney for the office’s Consumer Protection Division, told the Los Angeles Times. “I cannot imagine a worse result of violating safety rules than something like this.”

While $1.5 million of that payout will go to Melena’s family, half of it will go to updating safety measures and equipment for the company, KTLA5 documents.

“I hope it sends a message that safety rules are not a recommendation; they are a legal requirement,” Chun said. “I’m hoping people will ... realize shortcutting safety rules to make a few extra bucks and improve the bottom line is not a tolerable equation.”

Additionally, two managers, who both ignored safety procedures and were also aware of employees entering the ovens, have been charged in the case, KTLA5 reports.

The Melenas released a statement thanking investigators, prosecutors and others involved in the case for “ensuring that safe work practices are implemented” at the company.

“Certainly, nothing will bring back our dad, and our mom will not have her husband back, but much can be done to ensure this terrible accident does not happen again,” the statement read.

Sources: KTLA5, LA Times / Photo credit: ABC7