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Former Bumble Bee Employee on Worker Cooked to Death in Plant Oven: Someone Made a 'bad mistake'

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In an interview published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, a former employee of the same Bumble Bee seafood plant where a worker was cooked to death in an oven discussed what kind of circumstances may have led to the fatal accident.

45-year-old Ralph Contreras of Norwalk worked at Bumble Bee for a year over a decade ago in the same area where the accident happened. The accident, in which 62-year-old Jose Melena was trapped and cooked in a steamer machine, remains under investigation by Cal-OSHA.

Contreras said of the accident: "Somebody must have made a bad mistake for that to happen. If you do things right, that's not going to happen."

He went on to say that there should always be three people with three machines in that section of the plant. Should one leave, someone else is supposed to take their place. Contreras describes the employees' garb of "a hard hat, ear plugs, safety glasses, [and] a belt to support the back and rubber boots," according to the Tribune.

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Contreras also described when cooking happens and how:

The cooking process starts after the tuna is canned and is dumped into a metal basket, Contreras said. Once the basket is full, it is pushed into a tunnel, he said.

But it's so heavy that it takes three men to push into the tunnel where the oven is. The tuna is cooked there and the basket comes out on the other side, Contreras said.

The oven door is then shut and another basket prepared.

"It's teamwork all the way through because there are three machines," he said.

A Bumble Bee spokesperson would not comment on what Contreras told the Tribune.

The plant reopened Monday. Should Cal-OSHA determine there were safety violations, the plant will face civil penalties and possible criminal charges.