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Rat Found in Minute Maid Plant; Coke's Processor Fires Whistle Blower, Teamsters Report.

30-Year Employee Fired After Alerting

USDA Inspector of Rat in Juice Plant

AUBURNDALE, Fla., July 10 /PRNewswire/ --

Coca Cola's (NYSE: KO) juice producer fired a worker after alerting a USDA inspector of a dead rat found under a Minute Maid orange juice-capping machine. The action again calls into question Coca Cola's product safety controls.

On June 19, 2001 Eric Meissner, a 30-year employee at the Auburndale, FL plant that produces Coca Cola's Minute Maid and Hi-C products, was fired after reporting a rat-sighting to a USDA inspector.

"When I spotted the rat, I immediately searched for my supervisor. When I couldn't find him, I alerted the closest person of authority who was an on- site USDA inspector," said Meissner. "I followed the safety and sanitation procedures and they fired me."

The day after reporting the rat, Meissner was suspended with pay while the company had an autopsy performed on the rat. The company later told Meissner that the autopsy results were not at issue, then fired him anyway.

"Eric Meissner was fired for trying to ensure the safety of Minute Maid Orange Juice," said Ken Wood, Teamsters International Vice President and President of Teamsters Local 79, which represents workers at the Auburndale plant. "It should be a warning sign to Coca Cola that their juice producer would rather fire a worker with 30 years experience than address serious product-safety concerns."

In 1996, Coca Cola brought in Cutrale Citrus Juices USA, a subsidiary of Brazil-based Sucocitrico Cutrale Ltd., to produce Minute Maid and Hi-C juice products in Florida. Since the operational changeover, workers in Auburndale have reported to Coca Cola that rats are prevalent throughout the plant, pigeon feathers and droppings have been found on conveyor belts, roaches swarm juice feed tanks, and mold grows inside production lines that are not shut down regularly for cleaning.

Conditions were so bad by January 2000 that workers initiated their own quality control reporting system and ultimately went on strike to protest unsafe conditions. After ignoring workers' warnings and a failed Florida Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection, Coca Cola was forced to recall Hi-C products produced at the Auburndale plant in February 2000.

Since Coke turned over operations to Cutrale, there has been:

* A failed Florida Department of Agriculture Food Safety inspection that

cited 30 violations including: filth from floor buildup on food

containers, flaky paint on ceilings over tanks and mold on ceilings and


* Two major chemical leaks which caused plant evacuations and shut downs,

worker hospitalizations and complaints of air pollution;

* A worker killed on the job in an electrical accident; and,

* Citations by the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for

15 violations including 13 determined to be "serious." OSHA penalized

the plant on 10 separate occasions for violation in 1999-2000.

Currently, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Orlando is considering whether to pull Cutrale's operating permit in Leesburg because of high nitrate levels in the wastewater. Nitrate levels on some days are reportedly twice the state standard. Local residents have complained about smell and the danger of nitrate seepage into ground water.

Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States and Canada.

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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Jul 10, 2001
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