The men and women who help make all the delicious things we love are often taken for granted. Working in the industry is often tough. For an unfortunate few, it can even be fatal. Here are five stories of employees who have suffered tragic accidents as a result of their work.
In Germany in 2009, disaster struck at a soup factory in Lubeck. At midday on Friday 15 May, an unnamed worker began his daily task of cleaning the heavy-duty machinery that filled the factory. As he neared the end of his shift, the unfortunate man climbed inside a soup cauldron to commence scrubbing. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the cauldron lid closed shut, causing the disinfection process to kick in. Accordingly, the entire container filled with super-heated steam. When the unlucky worker’s body was recovered, the doctor who arrived on the scene confirmed that he had been cooked to death.
A chocolate processing plant in New Jersey was the scene for another food-related calamity in 2009. Vincent Smith II was pouring raw chocolate into a vat for melting, when he suddenly slipped off the nine-foot pouring platform and fell in. He struck his head on an implement within the vat and immediately fell unconscious. Though another co-worker on the platform turned off all the machinery, it was already too late. Smith II was submerged in the boiling chocolate, and could not be recovered for several minutes. He later died from his injuries.
A similarly unfortunate incident befell Elmer Oscar Barrera in 2014. Whilst working at a fortune cookie factory, Barrera slipped and fell into a dough mixer while the machine was turned on. He suffered a series of blunt force trauma injuries and died in the machine. It was not until some time later that the body was discovered by a colleague.
Perhaps the most gruesome of all accidental food deaths befell two workers at a bakery in Leicestershire. David Mayes and Ian Erickson were called in to carry out essential repair works on a giant, 75-foot-long industrial bread oven. The repair works involved moving along a conveyor belt, collecting broken parts from the oven’s interior over the length of the machine. After it had been turned off, health and safety rules dictated that the oven be left for 12 hours before it was safe for personnel to enter. It had only been left for two. A few minutes after the men entered, other employees received panicked calls over radio, saying that the heat was worryingly intense. It was impossible to reverse the conveyor belt, meaning that the two men spent 17 minutes passing through an oven that was still a scorching 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Both died from their injuries.
Death by meat grinder seems more like the overly complex plan of an eccentric, abattoir-owning Bond villain than something that could actually happen. Unfortunately, for 26-year-old Michael Raper, this is exactly what happened in the summer of 2011. While he was cleaning the auger in an Oklahoma factory, Raper fell feet first into the grinder, his legs becoming entangled in the blades. His colleagues turned the machine off and over the course of two hours, began the process of trying to extricate him from the grinder. Raper was conscious the entire time. Though he was alive when he was eventually removed, Raper died later in hospital.
While deaths in the food industry are very rare, they can and do happen. It’s worth remembering the risks that many people take for the sake of your dinner. Spare a thought for the unlucky few next time you sit down to anything that’s been baked, steamed, melted, mixed or ground.