An investigation into a liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry processing plant in Gainesville, Georgia, that killed six people is focusing on a cryogenic freezing system manufactured by Messer.
The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board’s (CSB) work on the incident at the Foundation Food Group on 28th January is ongoing, but the CSB has released some details in an update.
The incident at Foundation Food Group’s Gainesville Plant 4 occurred on Line 4, where chicken is processed, to include seasoning, cooking, freezing, and then packaging.
The system installed on Line 4 is a liquid nitrogen immersion-spiral freezer. The liquid nitrogen units were manufactured and installed by major industrial gases company Messer and are leased to the Foundation Food Group, according to CSB.
“CSB has confirmed that both the external and the interior elements of this system were manufactured by Messer,” CSB said in a statement.
“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.”
Liquid nitrogen was first used in Plant 4 in 2020 and some tools were found near an immersion freezer on Line 4, according to the CSB. The CSB understands that Line 4 was shut down on the morning of the incident “due to operational issues on the conveyor line”.
“We have since learned that unplanned maintenance was being conducted on Line 4,” the CSB statement said.
“The LN [liquid nitrogen] units were manufactured and installed by Messer and are leased to the Foundation Food Group. 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. Foundation Food Group maintenance personnel reported the computerised measuring system indicated a low liquid level in the immersion bath used to flash freeze the chicken products.”
The CSB continues to investigate the incident.
“Messer was notified the morning of Thursday, 28th January of several fatalities at Foundation Food Group (formerly Prime Pak Foods, Inc.) in Gainesville, GA,” Messer said in a statement to gasworld.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased, and we express our sincere condolences. We understand that other employees and first responders were being treated at local area hospitals, and we hope for their speedy recovery. Messer has offered its full support to the Foundation Food Group team and is cooperating fully with the investigating authorities examining this tragedy.”