Sriracha battle over: Victory for chilli as council throws out 'public nuisance' declaration and lawsuit against hugely popular hot sauce factory
A judge had ruled the Sriracha factory in California a health hazard - but measures have since been taken to protect nearby residents from fumes
In a victory for chilli fans around the world, a town that is home to the fiercely popular Sriracha hot sauce company has removed its status as a “public nuisance” and thrown out a lawsuit that threatened to halt its production.
The simple piquant condiment that inspired a global community of foodies – and whole books of dedicated recipes – had been in undeniably hot water following complaints from local residents.
Those living near the Sriracha (pronounced (suhr-AH'-chuh) factory in Irwindale, California complained that the fumes expelled during the chilli harvest season were like “respiratory napalm”, burning their throats and eyes.
Last month a judge agreed, and sent fans into a stockpiling frenzy by ordering city officials to step in and shut down the factory if the problem could not be resolved.
Yet after the sauce’s creator David Tran provided assurances that the issue would be addressed – and hinted at taking his business to Texas instead – the Irwindale council voted unanimously to drop both the public nuisance declaration and a lawsuit against his company, Huy Fong Foods.
Sriracha chilli sauce being produced at the Huy Fong Foods factory in Irwindale, California City councillors described “forging a relationship” with Tran, whose company produces 20 million bottles of Sriracha a year and is growing at a staggering annual rate of around 20 per cent.
According to Pasadena Star-News, last night’s council decision came after the company installed stronger filters on its rooftop air vents.
These will not be tested fully until the factory begins processing new batches of chillies in August, but in a letter to the council Tran said: “At the commencement of this year’s chilli harvest season, if the air filtration system does not perform well, then Huy Fong Foods will make the necessary changes in order to better the system right away.”
The maker of Sriracha hot sauce is under fire for allegedly fouling the air around its Southern California production site Three weeks ago the Sriracha factory was visited by a delegation of officials from Texas, who tried to tempt Tran by explaining the “value proposition” of a change in state.
A plant science expert told Pasadena Star-News there was no reason the company could not re-locate and also “not have the dense population where he can put the factory without people getting the respiratory napalm”.
Regardless of last night’s victory, Huy Fong was still believed to be looking at sites in the Lone Star state for a second operation – but Los Angeles County officials said they were at least pleased the decision showed California was “open for business”.
David Tran arrived in Los Angeles as a refugee following the end of the Vietnam War in 1978, and started experimenting with chillies in a bucket after he found there were no hot sauces that lived up to those he had known back home.
In creating Sriracha in 1980, he said his mission was to “make a rich man’s sauce at a poor man’s price”, and the product gradually evolved into a cult hit.
Huy Fong Foods CEO David Tran poses next to hoppers where chillies are delivered during crushing season at the Sriracha factory on 14 May, 2014 in Irwindale, California David Chang, the trendsetting New York chef, fuelled its popularity by placing bottles on every table at his Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2004, while food magazines lined up to name Sriracha their “ingredient of the year”.
The sauce is made up of ripe, red jalapeno chilli peppers cut with sugar, salt, garlic and vinegar. It peaks at around 2,500 on the Scoville scale – around the lower range of original Tabasco sauce and about half the heat of a pure, fresh jalapeno on its own.
The company now operates from a $40 million (£24 million), 650,000-square-foot facility in Irwindale, churning 100 million lb (45.4 million kg) of chilli peppers a year.
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