Fatal Plant Explosion

6 employees dead from liquid nitrogen leak in Gainesville, Ga.

Six employees are dead after a shocking incident rocked a Gainesville, Georgia food processing plant January 28. In a rare and frightening accident, a full-scale investigation identified liquid nitrogen as the fatal cause. Electrical Apparatus would like to extend our thoughts, prayers, and condolences to all of the families who lost loved ones in the incident. The CSB investigation, detailed below, is underway and continues this week.

A third update on the situation was provided February 7 (this past Sunday) via an information release from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) regarding the Foundation Food Group incident. CSB provided the public with initial facts (January 30, 2021) regarding an investigation into the liquid nitrogen release at the Foundation Food Group’s Gainesville Plant 4.

The CSB noted first that the event occurred on the plant’s Line 4, where chicken is processed, to include seasoning, cooking, freezing, and then packaging.

Foundation Food Group released the following statement on its website:

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our friends and team members. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and our community during this most difficult time. We ask you to join us, as we grieve for their loved ones.”

CSB investigators are focusing on the cryogenic freezing system, based on information from various sources, to include several visits to the Plant 4 by our CSB investigators (The information in the following bullets has been previously released).

  • CSB has confirmed that both the external and the interior elements of this system were manufactured by Messer. This includes the supply tanks outside, and the interior cryogenic freezing equipment on Line 4.
  • Prior to the recent installation of this system, a different type of freezing equipment was used, which was ammonia-based. This equipment is still collocated on Line 4 adjacent to the cryogenic system and has not yet been removed.
  • The approach of using LN was introduced to Plant 4 in 2020, as it is also being used on Line 2 in Plant 4.
  • As mentioned during our first briefing, some tools were located in the vicinity of the Line 4 immersion freezer.  We have since learned that unplanned maintenance was being conducted on Line 4.
  • The system installed on line 4 is a LN immersion-spiral freezer. This process occurs in two stages. In the first stage, the chicken travels on a conveyer belt and is submerged in LN at a temperature of -320F.  In the second stage, the conveyer belt travels through the spiral freezer portion, and the chicken is exposed to recovered gaseous N nitrogen (from stage 1), to complete the freezing process.

The CSB is releasing the following new facts on the incident:

  • The LN units were manufactured and installed by Messer and are leased to the Foundation Food Group.
  • The Foundation Food Group performs routine maintenance on the Messer-owned equipment.
  • The plant had been experiencing unresolved operational issues on the chicken conveyor that appear to have resulted in the accidental release of liquid nitrogen in the flash freezing bath.
  • The CSB has information that Line No. 4 was shut down the morning of the incident. The shutdown was due to operational issues on the conveyor line.
  • Foundation Food Group maintenance personnel reported the computerized measuring system indicated a low liquid level in the immersion bath used to flash freeze the chicken products.

CSB says it will continue to provide updates as the investigation progresses.

full statement from CSB (Chemical Safety Board) chairman here: Foundation_Food_Media_final.pdf (idevmail.net)

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