LOS ANGELES - A small Southern California city has sued the makers of the popular Sriracha-brand hot pepper sauce, saying tear-inducing odors emanating from its chili processing plant in town are creating a public nuisance.
Irwindale officials said they plan to ask a Los Angeles County judge on Thursday for a court order forcing Huy Fong Foods to immediately halt production of Sriracha (pronounced sir-RAH-chah) at its chili factory while review of the case continues.
The lawsuit, filed on Monday, says the company has denied a problem exists and refused to take action to abate fumes powerful enough to prompt some "residents to move outdoor activities indoors and even to vacate their residences temporarily to seek relief."
Since mid-September, Irwindale, about 20 miles (32 km) east of Los Angeles, has received numerous reports from residents complaining of "strong, offensive chili odors" that cause eye and throat irritation and headaches, the suit says.
City officials said they have met twice with company executives and cited the firm for violating public nuisance ordinances, all to no avail.
The company declined requests by Reuters to comment on the dispute.
But Huy Fong Foods owner David Tran told local public radio station KPCC this week that he has installed filters on rooftop vents at the factory that he says absorb about 90 percent of the chili and garlic odors from the processing exhaust.
"To filter 100 percent, I haven't found any engineer (that) can do it," Tran said.
City manager John Davidson said Irwindale officials consulted with an environmental chemist who toured the factory this month and devised a filtering system that should address 99 percent of the issue.
But he acknowledged it would cost as much as $600,000 to build, purchase and install.
Tran, an ethnic Chinese immigrant from Vietnam, founded his company in Los Angeles in 1980 and opened a plant in the neighboring town of Rosemead a few years later. He recently opened the Irwindale facility to expand his capacity.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the company produces up to 200,000 bottles of hot sauce a day and sold more than $60 million worth last year.
The red-colored Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, sold in clear plastic bottles with a green cap and trademark rooster logo, is made from locally grown Jalapeno peppers, garlic and other ingredients. It ranks as Tran's leading product.
In recent years it has grown into one of the top-selling bottled sauces in the United States as spicy international cuisine has exploded in popularity, with salsa replacing ketchup as America's No. 1 condiment.
Sriracha, celebrated as the ingredient of the year for 2010 by Bon Appetit magazine, has inspired cookbooks, a food festival, a movie documentary and a potato chip flavor.
Tran told the Los Angeles Times he has done the best he could to control fumes from his plant and that the pungent qualities of his chilies make for a better sauce, saying, "If it doesn't smell, we can't sell."