The makers of the popular Asian hot sauce have been hit with a lawsuit, claiming the plant is creating smelly, irritating emissions.
Officials of Irwindale, the California city that is home to Huy Fong Foods, have filed suit seeking to stop production of sriracha (a chili-garlic hot sauce) until the facility mitigates the problem-causing emissions. The suit alleges that more than two dozen local citizens have lodged complaints about odors, eye and throat irritation and other woes since the facility opened last year.
Sriracha, Huy Fong Foods' primary product, is one of the fastest-growing condiments on the planet. In 2001, the company's sales were approximately $12m USD; last year, they were about five times that.
The company's primary facility in Rosemead, California couldn't keep up with booming demand, so they opened the new Irwindale plant last year. Fred Galante, attorney for the city, told FoodProductionDaily.com that the problem has been mounting since the factory started production.
“They started operating at about 10% capacity, with the remainder of their production still taking place in their old Rosemead facility,” he explained. “Even then, at that level, we had started getting complaints from residents.”
Galante reported that the complaints started coming during “crushing season”—the two- to three-month period during which the plant crushes peppers for use in the sriracha sauce—starting in September. At that time, officials met with Huy Fong Foods officials, who reportedly installed filtration equipment to mitigate the problem.
However, Galante said, when the company’s Irwindale facility commenced with crushing season this year, reportedly this time with the plant running at 40% capacity, the problems resurfaced.
“As soon as it began, the city started receiving a significant number of complaints about people being overwhelmed by with strong odors; irritation to their eyes, nose and throat; and other problems,” Galante said. “Outdoor gatherings and parties held outside had to be brought indoors, the smell and effects were so strong.”
Galante said that to his knowledge, no residents had to seek medical attention because of the emissions. However, he explained, one area woman complained that the emissions were exacerbating a "pre-existing condition."
Change of heart
Galante told FPD that while last year Huy Fong Foods officials were responsive to the city’s concerns, this time they were not as receptive.
“[CEO David] Tran explained he was no longer considering changes to the plant,” Galante said. “He said the staff was able to work in the plant without incident, so why should residents have a problem?”
On October 17, Irwindale officials cited Huy Fong Foods for violation of municipal code forbidding noxious manufacturing emissions. After no satisfactory action was taken to mitigate the emissions, the city filed suit on Monday, October 28, calling for the plant to shut down until the problem is dealt with.
Huy Fong Foods’ previous facility in Rosedale reportedly has operated for approximately 30 years with no complaints from residents. However, the Irwindale facility sits very close to local residences; Galante said that houses are situated as close as a few hundred feet away from the property.
A judge is expected to rule on Thursday on whether or not Huy Fong Foods must close until the problem is fixed. Galante told FPD that the city doesn’t wish to cause any undue harm to the company and its operations.
“Our goal has never been to shut them down,” he said. “We just want them to implement a solution.”
Huy Fong Foods officials declined to comment on the issue.