Ruling on Hot Sauce Factory Raises Job Worries

IRWINDALE, Calif. (AP) -

A judge has ordered a plant that produces the popular Sriracha chili sauce to stop emitting annoying odors, in a ruling that left some nearby residents worried about a possible loss of jobs at the factory.

Judge Robert H. O’Brien on Tuesday ruled in favor of the city of Irwindale, where Sriracha recently relocated, saying sauce maker Huy Fong Foods must stop any operations that could be causing the odors and make unspecified changes to mitigate them.

The company had no immediate comment, but a few neighbors interviewed Wednesday dismissed the complaints and worried that jobs might be lost if the plant is forced to close.

“I don’t want it shut down, because I think a lot of people will lose their jobs,” said Marta Torres, 47. “In two years, it has never smelled as much as now, but I think it’s OK.”

Torres said that late in the day, the smell wafts into her home in an area where many of her neighbors like to cook with spices.

“It’s something you can deal with,” she said. “It doesn’t bother us.”

O’Brien’s preliminary injunction was issued in response to a lawsuit filed Oct. 21 by Irwindale, a small industrial city east of Los Angeles that is home to nearly 1,500 people.

It wasn’t immediately known if the food company plans to appeal. The Associated Press left phone messages Wednesday for Huy Fong Foods and its attorney.

The company has said there is no reason to close the plant now, because harvest season and the subsequent grinding of red-hot jalapeno peppers – the key ingredient of the sauce – have passed.

As a result, the injunction might not have an immediate impact on the company’s production or the nation’s hot sauce supply as Huy Fong continues its year-round mixing and bottling.

The judge acknowledged there was a lack of credible evidence linking complaints of breathing trouble and watery eyes to the factory. But he said that for residents, the odor that could be reasonably inferred to be emanating from the facility is “extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses warranting consideration as a public nuisance.”

Some residents said living with the smell is bearable.

Randall Acosta, 45, who lives in an apartment complex across the street from the factory, said the scent can be strong sometimes but it makes him hungry.

“Why are people complaining about the chili smell when this is an industrial area?” he asked. “There’s burning rubber down the street. There are other dangers in this city.”

The case could still go to trial, but Irwindale officials would like to see a settlement outside court and do not want to shut down Sriracha altogether, city attorney Fred Galante told the Los Angeles Times.

“We’re going to try to keep having a conversation with Huy Fong” and find a collaborative way to address the odor problem, he said.

The company has already been courted by other cities, including Philadelphia and Denton in northeastern Texas.

Philadelphia councilman at-large Jim Kenney told WCAU-TV on Wednesday that his office is looking at finding a spot in the city for the Sriracha maker.

Last month, Denton councilman Kevin Roden said in an open letter to Huy Fong that the Texas city has cheap land and an emerging urban farm district that would benefit the company.