Sriracha hot sauce goes well on pretty much anything. The recognizable condiment, with its rooster label and green cap, has an entire cookbook devoted to it, boasting recipes that, given the hot sauce's potency, promise to "pack a punch."
That signature spice, though, could now force the company to temporarily close up shop at its new processing facility in southern California.
The city of Irwindale filed suit against Sriracha in Los Angeles Superior Court Monday, claiming the sauce was too hot to handle. Specifically, the city claimed the smell of chili peppers emanating from the Huy Fong Foods factory was so overpowering it was leaving residents with burning eyes, sore throats, and in some cases headaches. A birthday party reportedly had to move indoors after the smell proved too overpowering, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The suit asked that a judge temporarily halt production at the plant until the hot sauce maker presents a plan to mitigate the offending odor.
"Given how long it's going on, we had no choice but to institute this action," said Fred Galante, the city's attorney.
According to the suit, the city visited the plant in early October after more than two dozen residents complained about the smell. Huy Fong initially said it would "do everything possible" to address the problem, but then changed course weeks later and claimed there was no problem at all, the suit alleged.
So what does that mean for hot sauce heads?
David Tran, Huy Fong Foods' founder, says the price of his hot sauce will spike if the city wins its case. So far, though, there have been no reported cases of panicked people rushing to stock up before the Sriracha market goes dry, at least partly because there's no telling whether a judge will approve such a drastic measure.
The city has twice inspected the Sriracha facility without writing it any citations, and the company already installed carbon filters following previous odor complaints. Huy Fong Foods also operated without any issues in another residential area for three decades before moving to the 655,000-square-foot factory in Irwindale last year, according to Tran.
There's not really much legal precedent either. Courts have ruled both ways on lawsuits involving noxious odors. But those cases typically involved more typical offenders, like sprawling corporate farms with hundreds of thousands of animals and an equally sizable amount of animal waste. Sriracha may have a strong odor, but it's not really comparable to the stench of an open-air pig farm.
A stay in production could be a huge financial blow to the company. The chilies used in the sauce are only processed and stored over a two-to-three-month period in the fall, meaning a hiatus in the near future could decimate the production line.
A judge is scheduled to decide Thursday whether to grant the order.
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