, Newburyport, MA

November 1, 2012

Electrical fire no treat for Alden Merrell

By Dave Rogers Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Alden Merrell Fine Desserts abruptly closed yesterday following a small electrical fire that knocked out one of the mixing machines at the Graf Road bakery.

But fans of the company’s cheesecake, carrot cake and other desserts need not fret too long as the facility is expected to reopen Monday, according to Alden Merrell’s chief executive officer.

Michael Knowles said yesterday that due to a number of factors, including sanitation efforts, clearance from the state health inspector and insurance issues, it made sense to close down operations until the beginning of the next work week.

Knowles added the facility could have reopened as soon as today, but since it typically doesn’t operate on Fridays, the decision was made to keep the plant closed.

“We decided to play it safe,” Knowles said.

In an email, Newburyport Health Inspector Robert Bracey wrote the city’s health department ordered the plant to be cleaned and serviced by a professional cleaning company that specializes in non-hazardous cleanups.

Bracey wrote that because the facility is permitted by the state public health department and the federal Food and Drug Administration, the city health department has contacted both agencies and is working with them and Alden Merrell so the facility can open as soon as possible.

Newburyport fire Chief Stephen Cutter said it appears an electrical connector to the mixing machine failed, causing the small fire around 10:45 a.m. The fire was quickly knocked down by at least one Alden Merrell employee using a dry chemical extinguisher.

As dozens of Alden Merrell employees, many wearing plastic hair nets and blue surgical-looking smocks, waited outside, firefighters used industrial-sized fans to vent smoke from inside the expansive plant.

Cutter said after the fire was extinguished, a large portion of the plant was shut down due to the spread of dry chemicals. Bracey and city electrical inspector Dave Zinck were quickly called in to inspect the facility.

In May, Alden Merrell was acquired by Superior Capital Partners LLC, a Detroit-based private equity firm, and given a new name: Dianne’s Fine Desserts. A spokesman for Superior Capital Partners said at the time that no staffing cuts were planned and that the Alden Merrell name would continue to appear on cakes and other desserts.

About half of the company’s 500 employees work at the Newburyport plant, with the remaining half based in Le Center, Minn.

Knowles praised the city’s response to the potentially devastating incident, saying that help was there within minutes.

“The Fire Department and health inspector were all great,” Knowles said.