Irwindale, California, has declared that the smell that comes from the factory that makes Sriracha hot sauce is a public nuisance. Huy Fong Foods, the company that makes the spicy sauce has 90 days to make changes to the factory.
Residents of the Southern California city have complained that the odor from the facility burns their eyes and throats. Frank Shyong has been following the story for the L.A. Times and joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with details.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
And if you're a fan of the hot sauce Sriracha, you may be disappointed to hear that this week the city council in Irwindale, California, declared the Sriracha factory a public nuisance. For months now, residents have been saying the odor from the factory burns their eyes and throats. Frank Shyong has been following the story for the LA Times. He's with us now. Frank, welcome.
FRANK SHYONG: Thanks. Glad to be here.
HOBSON: Well, what does this public nuisance vote by the city council mean for Huy Fong Foods, which makes Sriracha?
SHYONG: Well, the city has already sued Sriracha - Huy Fong Foods in Los Angeles Superior Court, and a trial date is set for November. They also decided to add this public nuisance designation as insurance. So what this means essentially is that they will adopt a resolution at a later meeting, and then Huy Fong will have a certain time period. And then city law authorizes them to go and make the changes themselves. So not exactly a shutdown, just allowing the city to go in and enter the factory.
HOBSON: So meantime the factory continues to make the hot sauce.
SHYONG: Yeah. So right now all their doing is mixing, bottling and packaging the hot sauce. They're not grinding the peppers. You know, in case anybody is afraid there's going to be a shortage, you know, they store enough sauce base to make sauce for 18 months in the giant warehouse out there.
HOBSON: Tell us a little bit about this factory. Does it employ a lot of people there? Is there an economic reason to keep it going even if it is causing a public nuisance, as they voted that it is?
SHYONG: Well, they have about 60 fulltime employees, but seasonally they can get up to 200 people employed. This is a really big, large, new factory. When it was under construction, it was the largest building in LA County under construction. It won several, you know, redevelopment awards. The city was extremely proud of this building. So yeah, it's definitely something that is important to Irwindale, and I think Irwindale city officials, you know, recognize that.
HOBSON: Well, is there any question about whether it should move outside of Irwindale?
SHYONG: You know, that would be pretty difficult because Sriracha sources its peppers to a farm in Ventura County; they've been working with this guy for years and years and years, you know, having him adjust the spiciness of his peppers, you know. That's not necessarily an operation that could be moved. You have different soils. In addition, David Tran is a pretty old guy, and this factory is sort of the crown jewel in his company, you know, he's proud of it. He helped design many different parts of it. This is a building that he is attached to, I think.
HOBSON: Frank, in your reporting of this, have you experienced the problems of the spices that are coming out of the factory, the odors?
SHYONG: Well, actually, that was the first thing I tried to do. I went to the factory. I walked around. And they took me up to the roof of the factory where, you know, they were grinding peppers at the time, and spicy air is just pouring out of this spout up there. And I stuck my head in there, you know, took four or five deep breaths. You know, it wasn't pleasant. I don't want a cologne like that. But it definitely didn't, you know, cause me to have heartburn or asthma or any of the things that I was talking about.
Now, my own, you know, experience of the smell isn't sufficient evidence. You know, people could have asthmatic conditions. People could have different respiratory conditions. You know, the smell affects different people of different ages in different ways.
HOBSON: So what's the next step, Frank?
SHYONG: Well, basically the city council is going to adopt a resolution. Then Huy Fong Sriracha will have 90 days to make the changes. Huy Fong had promised to submit an action plan within 10 days and design the filtration system and have it installed by June 1. So maybe there's some light at the end of the tunnel.
HOBSON: Frank Shyong, reporter with the LA Times, talking with us about the Huy Fong factory in Irwindale. That's the factory that makes the Sriracha hot sauce. Frank, thanks so much.
SHYONG: No problem.
HOBSON: And Sriracha getting very popular, Sacha. Just yesterday I had Sriracha chips. There's a Sriracha Subway sandwich right now.
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
That's right. It's very trendy.
HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.