Specialty meats processorColumbus Foods, Hayward, Calif., said it will spend $7 million and install a reconfigured ammonia refrigeration system at its South San Francisco, Calif. facility. Officials say  Columbus' new system will exceed current EPA Clean Air Act standards and provide increased safety for employees and the community surrounding its plant.

Columbus acknowledged that two incidents at the facility in 2009 prompted an EPA investigation which found the plant to be in violation of regulatory requirements for process safety management under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act. Columbus said it fully cooperated with the investigators and has made system improvements surpassing the EPA’s recommended standards. The company also will pay a $685,446 penalty as detailed in the consent decree made public Tuesday.

“For more than 90 years, we’ve been committed to our employees’ safety and invested in improving the conditions they work in,” said CEO Tim Fallon. “The new ammonia refrigeration system puts Columbus at the forefront of innovative manufacturing safety technologies.”

Fallon said Columbus' new system features state-of-the-art hardware and controls technology; safeguards including secondary containment and an air scrubbing system,;and a complex sequence for leak detection, alarm and notification. To further ensure control of the ammonia gases, the refrigeration system and ammonia charge will be fully contained in an enclosed building.

The Forbes facility, which has been operational since 1967, acts as Columbus’ primary manufacturing plant where it handcrafts its full collection of traditional and artisan salumi and suite of premium deli meats. In 2012, it’s expected to produce approximately 22 million pounds of specialty meats. The facility operates five to seven days a week based on demand, and employs up to 150 people.