PHOTOS: Sriracha factory under fire for fumes; city sues

David Tran with an air filter atop his Sriracha chili sauce factory.
David Tran with an air filter atop his Sriracha chili sauce factory.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

Complaints from nearby residents about burning eyes, irritated throats and headaches have led the city of Irwindale, Calif., to ask a judge to order the company that makes Sriracha hot sauce to suspend production.

Irwindale city attorney Fred Galante filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday. The suit claims "the strong, offensive chili odor" emanating from a production facility on Azusa Canyon Road is a "public nuisance." It asks the judge to stop production until the company, Huy Fong Foods, takes steps to eliminate the odor.

RELATED: Sriracha maker Huy Fong Foods sued as 'public nuisance'

The complaint says city staff met with representatives of Huy Fong Foods on Oct. 1 and were told the company "would do everything possible" to reduce the odors. But in a meeting two weeks later, the suit alleges, Huy Fong Foods officials "asserted no odor problem existed."

The city gave the company until Oct. 21 to reverse its position and submit a "detailed plan of action" to address the issue. The suit alleges no plan was offered prior to Monday's filing date. 

Ironically, the factory was built two years ago with $15 million in financing from the City of Irwindale. 

Company owner David Tran told KPCC Tuesday that he has installed rooftop vents that he says filter out smells from the chili and garlic that go into the sauce. He says he's frustrated that the filters can’t completely eliminate the odors.

"To filter 100 percent, I haven't found any engineer [that] can do it," Tran said. "They just say that 90 percent [is the best that can be done]."

But Tran added that some of the people who complained live too far away from the plant to be affected: "The neighbor complained to us. We thought that, no, the punch of the chili won't [affect] you 1,500 feet away. I don’t buy it."

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has been to the neighborhood twice to investigate odor complaints, but their inspectors did not encounter any nuisance smells.

City attorney Galante told KPCC's Take Two he has an idea why the odor is an issue now. 

"They have a chili crushing season from what I understand that spans about two months of the year and they're in the midst of it right now, " He said. "And they crush the chili. I understand they introduce garlic and perhaps some vinegar, and as that process is going, it just emits from the site."

One nearby resident, Rita Sanchez, told CBS Los Angeles that the smell and the tingling, burning sensations it can cause are "kind of unbearable." But another young woman, Sabrina Cabrera, isn't bothered. She compares it to the odors from neighbors' cooking.

A judge is due to consider the city's complaint on Thursday. There's a lot at stake — OC Weekly reports that Huy Fong Food's "655,000 square foot facility can produce 200 million bottles of the bottled crack per year."

Though you may be familiar with the increasingly popular sauce, as our friends at Southern California Public Radio's Take Two say, it is "totally hot right now." The first annual Los Angeles Sriracha festival was held over the weekend.

Sriracha has been a popular topic with NPR's Kitchen Window folks:

-- "Confessions Of A Sriracha Fanatic."

-- "Sriracha-Baked Salmon And Kale Wraps With Roasted Red Pepper Sauce."

-- "Sriracha-Marinated Roast Chicken With Root Vegetables."

If you're nervous about such sauces, our friends at The Salt have advice about "How To Tiptoe Into The Hot Sauce Craze."

Sriracha complaint