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Commence freaking out, spice lovers
Everyone's favorite spicy sauce might be sparse in the near future.
Man, Sriracha lovers just can't catch a break. Following a California ruling asking Sriracha factory owners Huy Fong Foods to halt any odor-causing production, the California Department of Public Health has now told Huy Fong Foods to halt any hot sauce shipping.
7 Easy Sriracha Recipes (Slideshow)
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Department of Public Health is now enforcing stricter guidelines for the company, asking Huy Fong Foods to cold Sriracha, Chili Garlic, and Sambal Oelek sauces for 30 days before shipping them to distributors.
This means suppliers won't be able to restock their shelves until mid-January, which could cost some wholesalers some $300,000 in sales. "We have already received more than 30 angry phone calls today," one wholesale supplier told the LA Times. "It drives me crazy because this is the first time we have been in this situation." And if wholesalers and restaurateurs can't get it, us plebeians might have it even worse.
The company is named for a 400' Taiwanese-owned Panama registered freighter, Huey Fong,  that carried the founder, David Tran,  and 3,317 other refugees out of Vietnam in December 1978. [ citation needed ]  [ failed verification ] The rooster symbol that is a part of the Sriracha branding comes from the fact that Tran was born in the Year of the Rooster on the Chinese zodiac.   
The company's most popular product is its sriracha sauce. It was originally made with Serrano peppers and is now made with red Jalapeño peppers, reducing the overall pungency. [ citation needed ] It is currently Huy Fong Foods' best-known and best-selling item, easily recognized by its bright red color and its packaging: a clear plastic bottle with a green cap, text in five languages (Vietnamese, English, Chinese, French, and Spanish) and the rooster logo. One nickname for the product is "rooster sauce”, for the logo on the bottles.  In contrast to similar hot sauces made by other manufacturers, Huy Fong's sriracha sauce does not contain fish extract, making it suitable for most vegetarians, although the presence of garlic may make it unsuitable for members of Buddhism and some Hindu denominations.
Huy Fong also makes sambal oelek and chili garlic sauces. 
Founding and staffing Edit
Huy Fong Foods was founded by David Tran (born 1945), a Chinese-Vietnamese businessman of Teochew descent, and a former Major in the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam.  Tran fled the country in 1978 and arrived in the United States — first in Boston, then in Los Angeles — in the spring of 1980 as a part of the migration of the Vietnamese boat people following the Vietnam War. 
Tran considers Huy Fong Foods to be a family business. His son William Tran is the company president and daughter Yassie Tran-Holliday is vice president. 
In 1987, Huy Fong Foods relocated to a 68,000-square-foot (6,300 m 2 ) building in Rosemead, California that once housed toymaker Wham-O.  In 2010, the company opened a factory in Irwindale, California on 23 acres, a facility having 26,000 square feet (2,400 m 2 ) of office space, 150,000 square feet (14,000 m 2 ) of production space, and 480,000 square feet (45,000 m 2 ) of warehouse space,  which is now the site of manufacture of all three of the brands sauces. These sauces are produced on machinery that has been specially modified by David Tran, who taught himself machining and welding skills. Since 2014, the Irwindale factory has been open to visitors, and has become a tourist attraction.  
In Huy Fong Foods' production at these facilities, the company begins with purchase of chilis grown in Ventura, Los Angeles, and Kern counties and production of a mash from these most of each year's chili mash is produced in just two months, during the autumn harvest. Earlier, the company used serrano chilis but found them difficult to harvest. The product made from the natural mash is processed such that the final product contains no artificial ingredients.
Specifically, until 2016, the sauces were made from a Ventura County red jalapeño mash made from chili peppers grown in Moorpark, California by Underwood Ranches,  [ third-party source needed ] whose proprietor, Craig Underwood, also oversees Underwood Family Farms.  Huy Fong Foods' relationship with Underwood and the Ranches ended in 2016 after—as alleged by a lawyer for Underwood—Huy Fong Foods' David Tran "attempted. to hire away Underwood’s COO in order to form a new chile-growing concern", which is described as breaking trust between the supplier and manufacturer.  After a failure by Underwood to return an overpayment in 2016, Huy Fong Foods' sued Underwood Ranches, who then "countersued for. breach of contract and later won".  
The company has never advertised its products, relying instead on word of mouth.  Production and sales of the sauces are sizeable in 2001, the company was estimated to have sold 6,000 tons of chili products, with sales of approximately US$12 million. In 2010 the company produced 20 million bottles of sauce in a year.  As of 2012 it had grown to sales of more than US$60 million a year.  [ needs update ]
The company has warned customers about counterfeit versions of its sauces.  [ third-party source needed ]
In December 2009, Bon Appétit magazine named its Sriracha sauce Ingredient of the Year for 2010. 
The odor of chilis that emanates from the new Irwindale factory upset the community's residents and the City of Irwindale filed a lawsuit against Huy Fong Foods in October 2013, claiming that the odor was a public nuisance.  Initially, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused the city's bid to shut down the factory  but a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ordered the factory to essentially shut down on November 27, 2013, prohibiting all activities that could cause odors.  Irwindale dropped the lawsuit on May 29, 2014, after intervention by the office of Governor Jerry Brown. [ clarification needed ] 
The original is Thai
While the Sriracha sauce most familiar to Americans is a Vietnamese-American invention, the roots of the sauce actually lie in Thailand. In the 1930s, a woman named Thanom Chakkapak from the seaside community of Sri Racha invented a hot sauce intended as a cocktail sauce for seafood, which she called Sriraja Panich. Her family and friends encouraged her to take it commercial, and it became a huge success throughout the country.
The sauce is quite different from American Sriracha. The Thai version is made with garlic, prik chi faa peppers, vinegar, sugar, and salt which is fermented in casks for at least three months before being bottled, and has a more liquid consistency only barely thicker than Tabasco. It is popular with fish, fried food, seafood and khai jiao wok-fried omelette, as well as mixed into pad thai or combined with tamarind leaf for a tasty raw oyster shooter.
American Sriracha is little known in Thailand, and many Thais who try it find it excessively spicy, overpowering, and alien to their tastes, as well as packed with MSG, preservatives, and thickeners. They look askance at American habits of covering food with Sriracha until it completely takes over the flavor. However, many Thais who have lived overseas admit to learning to like the American sauce on its own merits, and hope to use the popularity of American Sriracha to help popularize the traditional Thai version of the sauce in the U.S.
Trina’s Starlite Lounge chef Suzi Maitland’s stockpile of sriracha. Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff
Until they discovered sriracha in their respective university cafeterias, Shauna Ward of Williams Bay, Wisc., and Tiffany Thompson of West Springfield didn’t know the Thai chile sauce existed. Now each keeps a large bottle close by. “I use it pretty much on everything I make that is bland — which is pretty much everything,” says Ward, a Boston University senior. Thompson, a junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, thinks sriracha gives everything a little extra zing, and it goes on “anything that I want spicy,” she says.
It’s that zing that makes sriracha a favorite among chefs. Suzi Maitland of Trina’s Starlite Lounge infuses her aioli with the puree of chiles, garlic, vinegar, and sugar for her Somerville restaurant menu. Matthew Gaudet of West Bridge, in Cambridge, mixes it into his miso barbecue sauce. Brookline restaurateur Deborah Hansen of Taberno de Haro adds it to a Spanish omelet. The signature sauce at the new brick-and-mortar Mei Mei Street Kitchen in Boston is a mix of sriracha and ketchup.
Sriracha is the go-to sauce of the moment. And though dozens of companies make the chile-garlic condiment, for aficionados, only one brand matters: Huy Fong Foods’ jalapeno red sauce with a rooster logo and green cap. Rooster Sauce, its most familiar moniker, may be temporarily in short supply. Shipments were halted last month to meet a federal health code after a review of the California firm’s new manufacturing process. The hashtag #srirachapocalypse quickly lit up social media.
Current Rooster Sauce woes began after the company opened a $40 million plant last summer in Irwindale, Calif., in Los Angeles County. Neighbors complained about the odor, then the state Department of Public Health advised owner Dave Tran that his uncooked sauce needs to sit for 30 days to be bacteria-free before shipping. Maitland immediately ordered extra cases ditto Andrew Li, co-owner of Mei Mei’s.
All that remains available of Rooster Sauce bottles is currently on store shelves, in Asian markets like C Mart, in the South End, and in supermarket chains. The C Mart manager says his stock won’t last long and Boston-based wholesale restaurant supplier Food-Pak is sold out. But shipments will soon resume. “We are looking forward to being able to release the product at the end of the month,” a Huy Fong spokesperson writes in an e-mail.
The popularity of Rooster Sauce can be attributed to its cost: A 17-ounce bottle typically sells for $2.99 to $5. It’s so popular that sriracha is now a potato chip flavor, part of a Subway chicken sandwich campaign, the subject of two cookbooks, a winking reference on “The Simpsons” TV show, and more.
Of the scores of sriracha brands, made domestically and abroad — Lee Kum Kee and Kikkoman offer variations — many connoisseurs favor Shark, a Thai brand. The differences are in the variety of chiles used, the sweetness, and the viscosity.
But Rooster Sauce has obtained iconic status. “People want the Rooster Sauce because it’s become synonymous with this chile sauce,” says Andrea Nguyen, the California-based author of “Asian Tofu” and the upcoming “The Banh Mi Handbook,” who posts her own sriracha recipes on Vietworldkitchen.com. “They’re using the condiment as a way to give heat and an Asian twist to their food. The popularity of this sauce is a way to see the way Americans are now so attracted to big flavors.”
Chef Bob Botchie makes his own sriracha sauce for the Shanghai Social Club restaurant in Allston. Lane Turner/Globe Staff/Globe Staff
The affinity for sriracha is often instilled in college, where it’s a regular fixture on the condiment bar. UMass-Amherst has provided it for 10 years. The campus’s various cafeterias go through 60 bottles a week, says Ken K. Toong, executive director of auxiliary enterprises. Five years ago, the Amherst campus switched from only using Huy Fong brand and now also provides Lee Kum Kee sriracha. At Tufts University, Rooster Sauce is used in two dozen recipes. Switching brands would be a dilemma for the Medford college. “The alternative brand with a similar flavor profile contains an allergen,” says Patricia Klos, director of dining and business services. Lee Kum Kee sriracha contains anchovy extract, which can be an allergen. “How would we manage that? We’ve been contemplating pulling the sauce for the time being until [Huy Fong Foods] is in compliance.”
There isn’t universal agreement on how Rooster Sauce tastes. Maitland says it has “a nice heat that creeps up on you. You can overuse it and regret it.” Eunice Feller of Bread & Chocolate Bakery Cafe in Newton Highlands says the heat “hits you right away, in the nasal passage and top of my brain, before it kind of vaporizes and is gone.” Max Hull, Mei Mei’s food manager, likes its “umami character. It’s a nicely balanced hot sauce with not too much vinegar.”
Sriracha sauces originated in 1949 in the Thai city of Si Racha. Part of the appeal of Rooster Sauce is the immigrant success of founder Tran. He is profiled in a recent documentary titled simply “Sriracha” ($5 on Vimeo.com). Of Chinese descent, Tran grew up in Vietnam, where he made and sold a chile paste. In 1979, he boarded a freighter for Hong Kong, then headed to Boston, and soon relocated to Los Angeles. Before long, Tran was making several chile products. His company name is a variation of the freighter name on which he fled Vietnam.
Huy Fong Foods has never had to advertise. In the documentary, Tran says revenues have grown 20 percent every year. The Los Angeles Times reports Huy Fong does more than $60 million in sales of sriracha a year.
The potential Rooster Sauce shortage has encouraged some chefs to make their own. Maitland is impressed with the sriracha made by Bob Botchie of Shanghai Social Club in Allston. “It’s a little sweeter, but ridiculously good,” she says. Botchie says he favors the very hot Thai bird chile because “it’s very small and packs a lot of punch. If you go with a mellower chile, you won’t get what you expect out of sriracha.”
Meanwhile, cookbook author Nguyen believes the sriracha shortage is media-driven. “I don’t know if regular people care that much,” she says.
She may have a point. With Rooster Sauce shipping about to resume later this month, the public is worried another crisis may arise just before Super Bowl: a possible shortage of Velveeta.
Accidental anthrax shipments follow a familiar pattern
Deadly pathogens are handled inside this module at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, the source of the accidental anthrax shipments that were revealed in May.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered in May that an Army biodefense lab in Utah accidentally shipped live samples of anthrax to private and military research facilities in as many as 17 states, Canada, Australia and South Korea over a period of six years.
But this error is not the first involving the U.S. government and shipments of deadly germs to unsuspecting scientists. In 2014, the CDC closed two labs and imposed a temporary moratorium on shipping deadly pathogens after a string of incidents.
Government facilities have mistakenly sent, mislabeled or lost anthrax, smallpox, botulism, brucella and dangerously contaminated flu viruses in the past.
CDC officials have said they won’t know what actions to suggest to prevent future mistakes until they finish their investigation into the shipping errors discovered last month.
Though these events rarely cause public health risks, the mishandling of dangerous biological agents has caused concern at least half a dozen times in the last decade. In 2014, the CDC issued a report on other incidents involving hazardous bacteria and viruses dating to 2006. Some highlights:
In 2006, a government biodefense lab failed to ensure that vials of anthrax were rendered inert — essentially lifeless and incapable of growth — before sending the samples to another facility.
The CDC also caught its bioterrorism labs storing anthrax in unlocked refrigerators and transporting live samples in Ziploc bags. CDC officials appeared before a congressional oversight panel in 2014 and said the lapses in security were “completely unacceptable” and “should never have happened.” More than 80 CDC employees were potentially exposed to anthrax because of those lapses, but none was infected.
The government uses anthrax in research to develop tools to detect potential biological terrorism.
Smallpox, one of history’s deadliest diseases, was eradicated in 1977 after a worldwide vaccination movement. The last U.S. case appeared in 1949, and Somalia saw the world’s last naturally occurring case, according to the CDC.
To ensure the virus never reappeared to infect people, laboratories around the world were ordered to destroy stored samples of the virus — dead or alive.
Only two facilities, the CDC in Atlanta and a lab near Novosibirsk, Russia, could keep smallpox-causing viruses in case the disease resurfaced.
That’s why it was a major shock when six small vials labeled “variola” turned up in an unused storage room at a research facility in Bethesda, Md., in 2014. Variola is another name for the deadly and long-eradicated virus that causes smallpox.
The vials dated to the 1950s. Apparently, someone had freeze-dried the virus, packed it away in a cardboard box and forgot about the vials hidden in the storage room.
Officials speculated that the vials may have once belonged to a National Institutes of Health lab that left the box when the facility changed hands to the Food and Drug Administration.
The last known cases of smallpox resulted from a 1978 lab accident in England.
This year’s avian flu outbreak has affected more than 43 million birds in the U.S., according to the Department of Agriculture. And though it is rare and hasn’t happened in the current outbreak, people can become infected by fowl carrying the disease.
About 60% of the people who contract the strain of the disease known as H5N1 die, according to the CDC.
In 2014, a CDC lab accidentally mailed vials of a benign bird flu contaminated with H5N1 to the Department of Agriculture. The department didn’t realize the mistake until several chickens died. The flu was contained in the lab and none of the workers was infected.
In 2006, a CDC lab mistakenly shipped live botulism bacteria, which create a potentially deadly nerve toxin, to another facility, which the CDC did not identify in its report.
The incident was one of five accidents involving dangerous pathogens recounted in the 2014 report by the CDC outlining mistakes and procedural errors at government labs.
Another incident mentioned in the CDC’s 2014 investigation into mishandled pathogens involved brucella bacteria in 2006. A CDC lab mistakenly sent what were thought to be vaccines to another facility that was not identified in the 2014 report. The mislabeled samples actually contained live brucella.
The germ can cause an infection called brucellosis, which is the most common work-related infection contracted by scientists. People who get sick from brucellosis can suffer from flu-like symptoms, including fever and muscle pain, but some effects can last for years and cause arthritis or depression.
Over the years, the CDC has closed labs, issued temporary halts to shipping deadly pathogens and completed numerous investigations because of incidents detailed in its 2014 report and the live anthrax shipments discovered in May.
It is still unclear why those samples were still alive when researchers thought the spores were dead.
The CDC and Pentagon “are continuing to investigate the circumstances around the shipment of the samples,” said Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the CDC. “It’s premature at this point to speculate on what, if any, additional procedures may need to be put in place in the future.”
Sriracha shipping halted until mid-January by state regulators
Sriracha hot sauce manufacturer Huy Fong Foods cannot ship out any more sauce until mid-January because the California Department of Public Health has begun enforcing stricter guidelines for the company.
Their three sauces, Sriracha, Chili Garlic and Sambal Oelek, now must be held for at least 30 days before they can be shipped to food distributors and wholesalers, the company confirmed Wednesday. It’s not clear whether the hold is a new requirement. The Department of Public Health did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The production delay comes amid a heated legal battle with the city of Irwindale, which sued the hot sauce manufacturer over spicy odors that residents say caused a raft of health issues.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in November the plant must stop any odor-causing productions immediately until experts could identify and mitigate the smell.
But at the time, Huy Fong officials did not anticipate production delays because they had finished grinding chilis for the year and simply needed to mix and bottle the sauce.
The company began to comply with the state’s hold period this week, said operations manager Donna Lam. Sauce suppliers will not be able to restock until mid-January.
Damon Chu, president of wholesale Asian food supplier Giant Union in Whittier, claims his company could lose about $300,000 in sales. His company buys up to $150,000 worth of Huy Fong Food products each month.
They have no inventory to draw on because they ship the sauces continuously to restaurant suppliers across the region. He fears that if his customers can’t get the sauce included in their order, they will switch to a different supplier or different product.
“We have already received more than 30 angry phone calls today,” Chu said. “It drives me crazy because this is the first time we have been in this situation.”
Whiting Wu, the manager of East Coast supplier Summit Operations Corp., says Huy Fong’s sauces are a “very significant part” of the business. His company supplies wholesalers, grocery stores and restaurants throughout the eastern half of the United States, and demand usually increases during cold winter months, he said.
Home Made Sriracha Sauce
Make your own all natural hot sauce that's free of preservatives using the best fresh ingredients!
On a seasonal basis, usually May - September, we have beautiful fresh red chile peppers that are loaded with a mature, strong heat but also some notes of fruity sweetness. These are perfect for making your ownsriracha sauce.
This is a lot of fun to make, because you can adjust the flavors at the end to suit your preference. The hot sauce starts out very, very hot, so be careful. If you prefer a milder sauce, use 50% red bell peppers, jalapeno, or a more mild fresh pepper.
- 8 Ounces Fresh Red Thai Chile Peppers
- 3 Cloves Fresh Garlic
- 1/4 Cup White Vinegar (more to suit taste)
- 1 1/2 Cups Water (more to suit taste)
- 3/4 Cup Sugar
Method for Home Made Sriracha Sauce
Rinse your chiles then remove stems. It's a good idea to wear rubber gloves, and don't touch your face after starting to work with the chiles.
With stems removed, we placed our fresh red chiles on on a cutting board and put them under the sun to dry and warm up for about half an hour.
Put the chiles into a mortar and pestle and start mashing. Be patient and continue to smash until all of the chiles are bruised and starting to look pulverized, then add the garlic and continue to work everything together. Transfer to a blender, and at relatively low speed blend for about 2 minutes. During this process, add the vinegar and about half of the water.
Transfer to sauce pot and slowly bring to a boil, add sugar, mix, and reduce heat to simmer. Start tasting the hot sauce and decide how you want it to taste. Add sugar to make it sweet, vinegar to make it sour, and water to bring the heat down. Continue to simmer for about half an hour. Skim the foam from the top of the sauce.
Let it cool, put in a jar, and keep in the fridge. The flavor improves with age. Enjoy!
After you make this hot sauce, please take a moment to share your experience and any tips using the comment form below. We'd also love it if you'd share your photos!
Jojo's sriracha recipes | delicious sriracha peanut sauce
This recipe transforms sriracha chili sauce into a beautiful peanut sauce for topping (or dipping) veggies, noodles and just about anything that could use an infusion of sriracha flavors. Our sriracha sauce ingredients blend beautifully with creamy peanut butter, soy and maple syrup.
- 1/2 cup salted natural peanut butter
- 1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free)
- 2 Tbsp maple syrup
- 2 Tbsp Jojo's Sriracha (flavor of choice)
- 1/2 medium lime, juiced
- 1/2 tsp chili garlic sauce
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- Hot water (to thin)
Whisk all ingredients except water in a mixing bowl. Whisk in hot water 1 Tbsp at a time until desired consistency is achieved (should be pourable but thick).
Forget the golden arches, try these golden rings with our heavenly Sriracha ketchup! Crunchy, oil-free and incredibly addictive, you’ll be making these more often than you think!
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
- 2 Tbsp of flour (add an additional 1 Tbsp for a thicker batter)
- 200 ml of plant-based milk
- 1 tsp of paprika powder
- 200 grams of panko breadcrumbs
- 1 Tbsp of paprika powder
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of black pepper
- 150 ml tomato passata
- 1 tsp of maple syrup
- 1 tsp of soy sauce
- 2 tsp of Deliciou Sriracha Seasoning
- Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
- Prepare a baking tray by lining it with baking paper. Set aside.
- Prepare the onion rings by cutting the tip off the stem side and removing the peel. Slice the onions horizontal into ½-inch-thick rings and carefully separate each ring from each other. Set aside.
- In a shallow bowl or dish, prepare your wet mix by whisking the ingredients together until smooth. Set aside.
- In another bowl, prepare your dry mix by whisking all ingredients together so that all dry ingredients are distributed evenly. Set aside.
- Lay out your wet mix, dry mix and baking tray in a line from left to right to create a mini-production line! Now you are ready to assemble your onion rings.
- Dip each onion ring first in the wet mix, then roll it in the dry mix and then place it onto the lined baking tray, ensuring they don’t touch.
- Place in the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.
- For the hero of the show - the Sriracha ketchup, mix all ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth and serve immediately with your golden onion rings! Yum!
Grab your Deliciou Sriracha Seasoning online and get free shipping US wide for all orders over $30.
Weber Garlic Sriracha Seasoning 4 x 6.2oz (176g) 4 packClick to enlarge
Weber Garlic Sriracha Seasoning 4 x 6.2oz (176g) 4 pack
Use Weber® Garlic Sriracha seasoning to add flavor to your chicken, vegetable and seafood recipes. Weber® Garlic Sriracha Seasoning is a blend of garlic and red pepper with a touch of sweetness from sugar and a touch of sour from vinegar that will add excitement to your meals.
No MSG. No Artifcial Flavors. No Artificial Preservatives.
Ingredients: Salt, Sugar, Garlic, Maltodextrin, Chili Pepper, Red Pepper, Citric Acid, Rice Concentrate, Paprika Extractives (Color), Vinegar, Natural Flavors.
Net Weight: 24.8.4oz (704g) 4 pack
Garlic Sriracha Honey Glazed Chicken Recipe
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 to 2 tablespoons Weber® Garlic Sriracha Seasoning Blend
- 1 tablespoon butter OR margarine, melted
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon Weber® Garlic Sriracha Seasoning Blend
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Generously rub 1 to 2 tablespoons seasoning over chicken.
- Place chicken in a shallow rimmed baking dish (line with foil for easier cleanup).
- Bake for 20 minutes.
- Combine butter, honey and 1 teaspoon seasoning in a small bowl.
- Brush over chicken and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes until chicken is well browned and internal temperature is at least 170°F.
Product Ingredient Lists and Nutrition Facts, when provided, are for your convenience. We at Spice Place make every effort to insure accuracy of the ingredients listed. However, because manufacturers may change formulations, persons with food allergies should always check actual package label.
Sriracha maker turning up heat on Irwindale
Avonne Penaflor and Anna Lim entered the doors of the Sriracha factory in Irwindale, took a deep breath and started to giggle.
They had caught wind of an odor that has allegedly inflamed respiratory conditions, launched lawsuits and made legions of fans hungry.
“It’s very nice, actually,” said Lim, 38, of Azusa.
Huy Fong Foods, the creator of Sriracha hot sauce, has been closed to the public for more than 30 years, fearing that competitors would steal trade secrets. But after months of Irwindale residents and city officials accusing the sauce maker of flooding their city with an offensive spicy odor, the notoriously private company has thrown open its doors.
Over the last few weeks, reporters, curious residents and foodies have streamed into the factory to take a tour that ends with a free miniature bottle of the Asian hot sauce, as well as a request to fill out a smell survey.
“We want people to come and see for themselves,” said Sriracha creator David Tran. “Is this smell harmful?”
As relations with Irwindale deteriorate, Huy Fong officials have turned to public opinion to help their case, hiring a public relations firm last week and finally assuming control of their Facebook page, which has more than 270,000 likes.
City officials see an uncooperative, defiant company that has dragged its feet in finding a solution. Last year the city asked a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to halt odor-causing operations at the factory.
After the judge granted the city’s request for a preliminary injunction, Tran displayed a green banner in front of the factory with the slogan: “NO TEAR GAS MADE HERE.”
Huy Fong executives say they’ve felt bullied and disrespected. They accused the city of taking an anti-business stance and rushing them toward a solution they can’t be certain will work.
The battle was supposed to come to a head Wednesday, when the City Council considered declaring the Sriracha factory a public nuisance. But after a boisterous public hearing, the council decided to give the factory more time to come up with a solution. In a rare move, officials with the South Coast Air Quality Management District offered to mediate the conflict and offer technical expertise.
But there is still a basic disagreement, even among the experts, about whether the smell coming from the factory is harmful.
South Coast Air Quality Management District officials said that by Wednesday morning, they had received a total of 61 complaints about the Sriracha plant. But at least 10 came after the plant stopped grinding chiles in December, said spokesman Sam Atwood, and four households out of 18 total accounted for about two-thirds of the complaints. There haven’t been enough complaints for the AQMD to issue a notice of violation, Atwood said, though the agency admittedly sets a high bar for such a violation.
Some of the most vigorous complaints have come from Irwindale City Councilman Hector Ortiz’s son, according to court records. Manuel Ortiz did not return calls seeking comment, and Hector Ortiz declined to comment. Dena Zepeda, a 56-year-old woman who lives down the street from the mayor, has also lodged multiple complaints with AQMD, saying her glands are swollen.
Irwindale officials say they’ve gotten complaints from more than enough households to justify taking action.
“We continue to receive ongoing complaints, and we will pursue the action as long as someone’s complaining,” said City Atty. Fred Galante.
But the relatively low number of complaints, as well as their sources, have sparked public speculation about whether the problem has been blown out of proportion.
“I honestly don’t think there is a smell problem,” said Enrique Islas, 29, who works at the factory and lives across the street. “None of my neighbors have complained, either. I don’t get it.”
Paul Rosenfeld, an environmental chemist with Santa Monica consulting firm SWAPE, said that odors can exhibit tricky behavior and affect people in different ways. Smells can rise into the air, descend without warning and intensify depending on the time of day, said Rosenfeld, whom the city has hired to consult on the smell.
That could explain why some people are affected and some are not. Those with asthma and other respiratory conditions, for example, may experience irritation, while others may catch a whiff and discover a sudden craving for dumplings.
Rosenfeld, whose firm was rejected by Huy Fong Foods for the consultation, said Sriracha sauce production can release a variety of harmful odors. Garlic contains sulfur, peppers contain capsaicin, and the vinegar used in the sauce can release acidic vapors. He conducted a study on multiple days that sampled odors in 21 different locations, and found that harmful levels did exist.
If inspectors don’t take samples during the evening and in the morning, “the AQMD will miss it every time,” Rosenfeld said.
Atwood said Rosenfeld’s sampling method was subjective because it relied on smell detectors instead of air sampling.
“Air sampling and lab analysis is required,” Atwood said. “It’s more objective.”
As the battle over the odor continues, the factory’s daily tours are proving popular, with office associate Mary Almodovar saying they are booked up months in advance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the more than 100 visitors who completed the smell survey have complained about an odor.
Inside, the deep red color of the sauce is displayed proudly on tables, chairs, walls and even toolboxes. The tours start at the conveyor belt where the peppers are ground, then visitors wind past a series of enclosed machines that squirt hot sauce into plastic bottles, which are transported by conveyor belt to the shipping area to be boxed, shrink-wrapped and stacked in pallets. The grinding season, which produces the most odors, won’t start until the end of the summer, so most visitors experience only a mild, peppery garlic scent.
Lim and Penaflor posed for multiple iPhone pictures and gave positive marks on their smell surveys. They’ve followed every twist of the Sriracha saga and asked Almodovar for an update on the complaints.
“I don’t know the exact details,” Almodovar said. “But to each his own, I guess. Everybody’s different.”