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Investigators: Plant had ‘unresolved operational issues’ on chicken conveyor that may have led to nitrogen leak
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Hall County Firefighters gather outside Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, at Foundation Food Group before entering a door near a loading dock. A day earlier six people were killed following a liquid nitrogen leak at the plant. - photo by Scott Rogers

Federal investigators said a Gainesville poultry processing plant had been “experiencing unresolved operational issues” on a chicken conveyor “that appear to have resulted in the accidental release of liquid nitrogen” Jan. 28.

Six people were killed following the leak at Foundation Food Group on Memorial Park Drive in Gainesville, and 12 people were hospitalized.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said Monday, Feb. 1, the incident happened on Line 4, where chicken is processed to “include seasoning, cooking, freezing and then repackaging.”

The board released new information Sunday, Feb. 7, saying the board “has information that Line No. 4 was shut down the morning of the incident.” The board said the shutdown was for “operational issues on the conveyor line.”

“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 board said Sunday.

Further explanation of those issues was not provided Sunday evening.

The board said its investigators have interviewed staff with firsthand knowledge and collected evidence while collaborating with local emergency management. The board said it is focusing on the plant’s cryogenic freezing system.

The reports from the Gainesville Fire Department and the Hall County Fire Services were still incomplete as of Monday, Feb. 8.

Foundation Food Group’s human resources did not respond to an email seeking comment Monday.