California city's bid to close Sriracha plant denied


In rejecting the city of Irwindale's request for a temporary restraining order, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien indicated he wasn't given enough time to consider the case.

"You're asking for a very radical order on 24-hour notice," O'Brien told attorney June Ailin, representing the city.

Instead, O'Brien scheduled a Nov. 22 hearing to consider issuing a preliminary injunction.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, Irwindale said it had received "numerous" complaints from residents who say the smell coming from the Huy Fong Foods plant burns their eyes and throats and gives them headaches.

The odor lasts for about 3 ½ months a year, during the California jalapeno pepper harvest season.

The company, which produces Sriracha and two other popular sauces, says it grinds up about 100 million pounds of the hottest California-grown hybrid jalapeno peppers it can find. The peppers are mixed with garlic, vinegar, salt and sugar, with the resulting fumes sucked through a filtration system and out through the roof.

During harvest season, as many as 40 big-rig trucks a day arrive at the 650,000-square-foot plant in Irwindale, a largely manufacturing town of about 1,400 residents.

City officials say complaints started arriving in September, soon after jalapeno harvest season began. Some people downwind have said the effect is like having a big plate of hot peppers shoved in your face.

The harvest season will end in about a week, meaning the smell should be gone by the Nov. 22 hearing - at least until next August.

However, City Manager John Davidson said after Thursday's hearing that Huy Fong officials have told the city they are working on developing a better filtration system that they think will kill the smell by next year.

"And that's good news for us," he said. "We are hoping they do."

Huy Fong Foods was founded by Vietnamese immigrant David Tran, who started making his flaming-hot Sriracha sauce in a bucket in Los Angeles' Chinatown in 1980. As the company rapidly grew, he moved to smaller facilities in Rosemead and, two years ago, to the new, block-long building in Irwindale, where he really began ramping up production this year.

Tran says the privately held company did about $85 million in business last year.

Its signature product originally was used mostly to spice up Asian dishes. These days, however, the bright-red sauce is spread on all kinds of foods - from hot dogs to tacos to sandwiches - and is sold the world over.

The Rosemead plant produces some Sriracha, but the bulk of it comes from the Irwindale plant. Plans are for the Irwindale facility to eventually produce all of it.

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