“Foundation Food Group takes workplace safety very seriously and works constantly to adopt and implement the most effective safety programs available to the industry,” Mr. Ancrum said. “Until this investigation is completed, we cannot say with confidence precisely how this accident occurred.”
Liquid nitrogen is often used in poultry plants to chill or freeze chicken after it has been gutted and processed, said Edgar Fields, the Southeast Council president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. It is dangerous, he said, because it is odorless and colorless and hard to detect if it leaks.
“I hope it brings awareness to every poultry plant, because in all the facilities we deal with this chemical, and even in the union facilities, we need to make sure we’re doing all we can do to protect the workers,” he said.
The deadly accident on Thursday morning was silent, at least to one employee, Maria Bonilla, 60.
Ms. Bonilla, a Salvadoran immigrant who does not speak English, was working in the marinating department of the sprawling plant. She did not hear an explosion, or a crash or screams.
“We didn’t hear anything,” she said.
She knew something was wrong only when a supervisor came running in to her department saying that there had been an accident and that everyone had to get out.
She said she and other workers had evacuated and stood outside for more than an hour, terrified.
Ms. Bonilla, who has lived in the United States for 30 years, said that she had worked in the plant for eight years.
On Thursday evening, Ms. Bonilla was the sole worker in the parking lot, sitting in the driver’s seat of her white Chevy sedan. Her son Richie Alexis Santos, 29, had come to make sure she was OK.