The book The Jungle famously describes how men in meatpacking plants would fall into the vats, and their flesh would become one with the lard. Today, you might look back at this as a description of how things were in the old days, something that could never possibly happen today. That’s if it happened back then at all, and it wasn’t just propaganda made up to prove the author’s point. 

Well, let’s shake up your thoughts about what’s still possible by telling of something that happened at a California tuna plant exactly ten years ago this week.

It was early morning, and 62-year-old Jose Melena had the job of doing maintenance on one of the big ovens where they cooked the fish. He climbed into the oven, a necessary step for doing repairs. The oven was 35 feet long so was easily big enough for him.

His coworkers were under the impression that Jose was on a bathroom break. So they continued with their own tasks with no heed to what may or may not already be in that massive bit of kitchen appliance. First, they dumped 12,000 pounds of tuna into the oven. Then they switched it on. They raised the temperature to 270 degrees, hot enough to cook the tuna so it’s ready for canning and also hot enough to thoroughly cook Jose Melena.

Soon after this, Jose’s supervisor noticed he was missing. The crew searched for him around the plant and in the parking lot. They didn’t find him till two hours later, when they turned the oven off and removed the contents. 

Prosecutors charged the director of operations at the Bumblebee plant and the safety manager, leading to probation and $5,000 fines. A court also ordered the company to pay $3 million in fines and settlements, and also made them spend a further $3 million ... to buy new ovens that no one need climb inside to fix. 

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Top image: Daniel Case

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