A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has ordered the maker of the popular Sriracha hot sauce to stop “emitting anything that causes odors" at its Irwindale plant, after residents complained of air and health problems created by the grinding of chilis.
In his preliminary injunction order, Judge Robert H. O’Brien wrote that Huy Fong Foods must “immediately make changes” but stopped short of requiring a total shutdown of the factory, as the city had initially requested.
It’s not clear what impact the order will have on the Sriracha supply, if any. For one thing, the pungent, chili-grinding season is over, and while the company is mixing and bottling, those processes are easier to control for odor. Also, the company has another manufacturing plant in Rosemead.
Huy Fong Foods founder and CEO David Tran was not available for an interview but the company e-mailed this brief statement on his behalf:
We are still open for operations, but if we are forced to stop production, there will be less 200,000 bottles a day of our product, and who would fill the market then - overseas imports …
As always, we want to thank our supporters.
HUY FONG FOODS, INC.
The email also included a Nov. 8 document titled "A Story Behind the Story," in which Tran gave his version of the odor controversy: "I believed the City of Irwindale acted severely toward us without a real investigation into the matter. I felt that the City just took action without any real reason, which gave me an odd feeling."
He signed off with a postscript: "we don't make tear gas here."
Should Huy Fong Foods decide to fight the judge's order, the case could go to trial. But Irwindale’s city attorney Frank Galante said, “We would be happy to dismiss this case if [Huy Fong Foods] voluntarily addressed the odors.”
The judge’s order, which was handed down Tuesday, does not specify how Huy Fong Foods should fix its odor problem, but the city is hoping the company will install a more effective air filtration system than it has now.
“We’ve received some estimates of about $500,000 for a system that will adequately address this issue,” Galante said. “My sense is for a company of this size that that would be the responsible corporate path to follow.”
The company moved into its $40 million Irwindale factory last year, but Galante said it was only operating at 10 percent capacity, while production also continued in Rosemead.
This year, Galante said, Huy Fong Foods ramped up production to 40 percent capacity. Complaints about odors from the factory started piling up during the chili crushing season, which goes for a few months starting in September.
“When the smell is strong, it’s like you’re sniffing powdered chili, and you can smell the garlic too,” Galante said.
Residents in the city of about 1,500 — as well as people who worked there during the day — reported burning sensations in the eyes and throat.
“The more significant concerns that I’ve heard are from parents with children with asthma,” Galante said. “They say [the children] are unable to play outside when the smells are particularly strong.”
According to the court order, no "credible evidence" linked the odor to health problems. But the judge wrote the smell seems to be "extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses warranting consideration as a public nuisance.”
Galante said the odor controversy has "certainly put some distance between the city and the company.”
But Galante pointed out that the city and the company worked “really well together” when the company first arrived, and that hopefully “the company representatives can come and work collaboratively with the city to address the issue.”
Irwindale had put up $15 million in financing to convince Huy Fong Foods to build its plant in the city.
According to David Tran, Huy Fong has contributed $250,000 to the city of Irwindale for the past three years.
This story has been updated.