Soft-drink giant Coca-Cola began issuing layoff notices Tuesday to workers at its Odwalla Inc. juice production plant in Dinuba as it prepares to close the facility in April.
As many as 164 regular full-time employees could be affected by the closure, according to a plant-closure notice filed Tuesday with the city of Dinuba, Tulare County and the state Employment Development Department.
“The Dinuba facility will cease operations on April 18, 2016,” Coca-Cola North America public affairs director Nancy Limon wrote in the notification letter. The letter noted that employees were to begin receiving 60-day layoff notices Tuesday.
Employees will be let go in six waves between mid-March and mid-May. The layoffs include various types of jobs – from blend masters and machine operators to warehouse-shipping clerks and forklift operators.
“The final day of employment for impacted associates will vary since the closure will be implemented in phases,” Limon told The Bee in an email statement. “We anticipate the closure to be completed by mid-year 2016.”
Employees will receive two months of pay and benefits before their official terminations become effective between May and July. “We are committed to treating every employee with respect and dignity throughout this process,” Limon said.
Moving production of our Odwalla beverages from a company-owned facility to a co-packer will bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to our business.
Nancy Limon, Coca-Cola North America public affairs director
Odwalla, founded in Santa Cruz and later relocated to Half Moon Bay, opened the 65,000-square-foot Dinuba plant in 1994 to expand production of its natural fruit and vegetable drinks. The Coca-Cola Co. bought Odwalla in 2001, and in 2013 the company relocated its corporate offices from Half Moon Bay to Dinuba.
Limon said production from the Dinuba plant will be taken up by a producer, known in the industry as a co-packer, in the Riverside County city of Corona. “Moving production of our Odwalla beverages from a company-owned facility to a co-packer will bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to our business,” she told The Bee.
While the Odwalla brand was celebrated for its use of natural ingredients and production of juices with no preservatives, the company suffered through a crisis in 1996 after an outbreak of E. coli bacteria linked to Odwalla apple juice produced at the Dinuba plant. A 16-month-old Colorado girl died of heart and lung failure as a result of the outbreak, which also caused at least 66 other illnesses in California, Washington, Colorado and Canada.
Two years later, Odwalla entered a plea agreement to federal misdemeanor charges and agreed to a criminal penalty of $1.5 million as a result of the outbreak.
At that time, it was the largest criminal fine for a food safety case in the history of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. While the FDA did not contend that Odwalla acted maliciously, the agency said the company did not take adequate steps to prevent the contamination.
E. coli typically is spread through fecal contamination. The FDA said the most likely source of the contamination was orchard workers, Odwalla plant employees or cattle contaminating fruit that had fallen to the ground.
Odwalla began flash-pasteurizing its apple juice to prevent bacterial contamination in the wake of the outbreak.