Production of Sriracha chilli sauce branded a 'public nuisance' in California by neighbours who say processing factory causes health risks

Cooking up the US's favourite spicy condiment has lead residents to complain of irritation to their eyes and throats
  • @joekrishnan

For lovers of the particularly piquant hot sauce, the news sends a shiver down the spine. The production of Sriracha, the spicy condiment favoured by millions of Americans, is a "public nuisance" and must change, or stop altogether.

Residents living in the small southern California city of Irwindale have long argued that the production of Sriracha at the Huy Fong Foods processing factory causes health risks – irritating their eyes and throats, and even forcing some to remain indoors altogether.

On Wednesday, after months of campaigning from residents, Irwindale authorities voted to prepare a resolution finding Huy Fong Foods to be a public nuisance, a resolution that could, in less than three months, outlaw production of the sauce. The city council is expected to declare Huy Fong Foods a nuisance when it next meets on 23 April.

Huy Fong Foods' Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, sold in clear squeeze bottles with a green cap and trademark rooster logo, is one is the top-selling sauces in the US. Once celebrated as the ingredient of the year, it has inspired cookbooks, a food festival, and a documentary.

John Tate, an attorney working on behalf of Huy Fong Foods, confirmed that the company was in the process of drawing up an action plan that would be ready to implement by the end of next week. He pledged to solve the matter by the time the chilli production season begins in June.

"We're disappointed," he said last week. "We had been led to believe we were providing the city with what it wanted. They seemed to be in a hurry to find a violation. It seemed to be to be a bit heavy-handed."

The saga, now dubbed "Srirachapocalypse" by some commentators on social media, has inevitably drawn the attention of those on Twitter and food bloggers. One Sriracha fan could not contain his fury, tweeting: "This is an OUTRAGE! Who is complaining?!" Another wrote: "I'm pretty sure that the complete shutdown of Sriracha would be more of a public nuisance than the smell the factory makes. #freesriracha."

There is, however, little risk of spicy food lovers running out of Sriracha just yet – Huy Fong Foods said it has enough stock to last 18 months, if production is stopped.

Representatives from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, who investigated the factory after 69 complaints were filed, played down talk of Sriracha's end, and said they would work with the company to curb the smell. A spokeswoman, Tina Cox, told the Los Angeles Times: "We believe that the information we have gathered should allow both Huy Fong Foods and the city of Irwindale to resolve their differences."

However, matters might not be so straightforward as they seem. According to a Pasedena Star News editorial, four addresses in the town have generated the majority of the complaints, with one complainant said to be son of a city councillor.

Giving evidence to the city authorities in February, residents were divided on the sauce's potential for public nuisance.

Juan Bravo, an employee, said: "I don't have any problems with my health. Since I started working there, I stopped using my inhaler."

"We are not here to shut Huy Fong Foods down. We want to fix it," said Dena Zepeda, who has led the campaign to curb the fumes. The firm has 86 days to do just that.