See more of the story

Seneca Foods has been slapped with a flagrant work safety violation in connection with the October death of a Minnesota cannery worker.

Jose Luis Alvarado, who worked at Seneca Foods' plant in Montgomery, died after a stack of corncob-filled boxes collapsed and crushed him.

The Minnesota Occupational Safety Administration cited Seneca for a "willful" safety violation in late March and fined the company $156,259, the maximum allowed.

Willful safety violations are rare and reserved for the most egregious infractions. Under federal OSHA rules, willful citations are issued only when a company allegedly shows "intentional disregard" or "plain indifference" to worker safety.

Upstate New York-based Seneca Foods is contesting the citation, as is common with willful safety violations. A company attorney declined to comment for this story.

Seneca is one of the nation's largest providers of packaged vegetables and fruits, including the Libby's brand and many store brands. The publicly traded company also bought the Green Giant canned vegetable business last year.

Seneca has five properties in Minnesota, including a 564,000-square-foot corn and pea processing plant in Montgomery, 45 miles southwest of Minneapolis. As with many of Minnesota's canneries, Seneca's employment surges at harvest time, often with migrant workers.

Alvarado, 58, was born in Mexico and lived in Texas, where Seneca has recruited employees. Alvarado was working a late shift on Oct. 5, cleaning up broken boxes of corn that had fallen earlier in the day when a stack of pallets collapsed, a Montgomery Police Department report said.

One Seneca worker told police that pallets had been falling at the factory for "days prior" to the accident, the report said.

Alvarado and another Seneca worker had almost finished cleaning up corn debris around 3:10 a.m. when another stack collapsed, falling onto Alvarado. He was incapacitated but responsive, according to Minnesota OSHA and police records.

But then a second stack collapsed onto him, covering him in corn and other debris. He died on the shop floor, the police report said.

Minnesota OSHA cited Seneca for hazardous storage of material. Seneca did not stack materials so that they would be stable and secure against collapse, the citation said.

Over the past five years, Seneca Foods has tallied about three dozen worker safety violations and tens of thousands of dollars in fines across several states, according to federal OSHA records. Some of those citations were for repeat safety violations that involved worker injuries.

In 2022, OSHA regulators fined Seneca Foods $171,876 for two repeat safety violations on the sauerkraut line at its Geneva, N.Y., cannery. The company settled with OSHA for $142,330 and a downgrading of the "repeat" violations to "serious" citations.

The same Seneca cannery in late 2021 was hit with several "serious" safety violations after an employee had four fingers amputated by a green bean cutting machine. Seneca paid $46,821 in that case, OSHA records show.

Seneca paid $72,510 in fines for three serious and two repeat safety violations at its Ripon, Wis., plant in 2020. At Seneca's Gillett, Wis., plant a maintenance mechanic lost part of a finger in a 2019 accident that led the company to pay $62,204 for six serious safety violations.