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Sriracha odors get mixed reviews; CoorsMiller brewery not so bad

October 29, 2013|By Frank Shyong and Hector Becerra

Jesse Bracamontes is one of the legions of Sriracha sauce fans who squirts the bright red paste of peppers, garlic and spices on all manner of foods: pizza, take-out Chinese and even a plain bowl of noodles.

But when the pungent Sriracha smell wafts into the frontyard of his Irwindale home, he says, his nose runs and he feels a little sick.

"It feels a little like pepper spray," he said. 

Bracamontes lives a short walk from Sriracha’s bustling new plant in Irwindale, which can produce up to 200,000 bottles of the hot sauce each day. The company moved there last year, responding to heavy global demand.

PHOTOS: Sriracha factory brews heat in Irwindale

But some neighbors say they are paying the price as Sriracha booms. They claim the smell is making their eyes water, throats burn and is keeping them indoors.

In response, the city is demanding that the factory shut down until it solves the problem.  Irwindale filed a suit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday against Huy Fong Foods, charging that the odor was a public nuisance and asking a judge to stop production. 

A business- and industrial-heavy city, Irwindale is no stranger to smells, including some emanating from a dog food manufacturer — usually,  it seems, when it’s an overcast day, Lisa Bailey, the president of the Irwindale Chamber of Commerce, said. And there’s the MillerCoors Brewery.

"But most people don’t consider that a bad odor. It’s like, 'Oh, beer!' " Bailey said with a laugh. 

Bailey said she got a tour of the facility about three weeks ago, while chilis were being crushed. She said she wore a hairnet but no mouth covering.

"I didn’t have any adverse reaction while I was there," Bailey said. "No burning eyes, no throat constriction, and I've had that while cooking chilis at home."

Bailey said she was surprised to find out about the city’s suit. She described her husband and herself as aficionados of Sriracha.

"My husband pretty much uses it like ketchup," Bailey said. "I use it mostly on tacos and stuff of that nature. We use it almost daily."  

So far Huy Fong Foods' factory has passed muster with air quality regulators. The South Coast Air Quality Management District received 11 complaints about odors related to the Irwindale plant — all since Oct. 21, including four on Saturday and one on Tuesday.

But  Sam Atwood, an AQMD spokesman, said the complaints couldn’t be confirmed after inspectors did “odor surveillance” of the area on two occasions.  

"On both occasions, they could not detect any odor," he said.

Atwood said odors can be fleeting, depending on factors like the weather and deep marine layers that can trap odors and pollutants close to the ground. But so far, the district has no reason to take any action against Huy Fong Foods, he said.

Kathy Galaz, 66, said the smell doesn’t bother her or her sister. Galaz makes a spicy brand of salsa that makes her sister sneeze and cough, but both are undisturbed by the smell from the factory.

“We walk the dog, we mow the lawn. It doesn’t bother us,” she said.   

Thomas Serrato, 64, of Baldwin Park said it just smells like someone cooking chorizo.

"I knew what it was. It smelled like chili and that’s all there is to it," he said. "It didn’t burn my eyes or anything."

For years, Huy Fong Foods was based in Rosemead until it started winding down as it completes moving its operations to Irwindale. Rosemead City Councilman Steven Ly said that when the Sriracha factory was in his city, odor never arose as an issue.

"Honestly, until you walk [into the factory], you couldn’t smell anything," he said. 


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