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SALINAS — Monterey County District Attorney’s Office’s Environmental Protection Unit entered into a stipulated judgment March 15 with Fresh Express Inc. for violations of pesticide-related laws that exposed its employees to noxious odors resulting from the use of sodium hypochlorite (commonly known as bleach) for about one month in early 2020.

More than 80 Fresh Express employees complained of symptoms consistent with exposure to the strong chlorine-like smell resulting from use of sodium hypochlorite during this time period at their Salinas processing plant, 900 E. Blanco Road in Salinas. Reported symptoms included coughing, eye irritation, blurred vision and chest pain, among others.

“Fresh Express ultimately determined that equipment leaks and calibration of its sodium hypochlorite injection system in its produce washing equipment was causing these symptoms to various employees,” according to the DA’s Office in a news release. “Ultimately, following these incidents, Fresh Express repaired its sodium hypochlorite and citric acid injection system to help ensure the systems are fully operational and in good working order.”

The judgment requires Fresh Express Inc. to pay $280,000 in civil penalties and investigative costs and includes injunctive terms prohibiting future violations.

Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office investigated this incident and referred the case to the District Attorney’s Office as a “priority investigation,” pursuant to 3 CCR section 6128, subdivision (e), because the incident caused over five persons to become ill.

Fresh Express cooperated with the District Attorney’s Office during its investigation.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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