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Nearing Sriracha court decision could endanger hot sauce supply

October 30, 2013|By Frank Shyong | Los Angeles Times

A judge will decide Thursday whether to grant the city of Irwindale's request to halt production at Sriracha sauce maker Huy Fong Food's factory while the company tries to limit odors wafting into the neighborhood. 

The decision could have serious ramifications for next years' supplies of Huy Fong's three hot sauces: Chili Garlic, Sambal Oelek, and the wildly popular Sriracha "rooster" sauce. 

All of the chilis for next year's sauce supply are processed during a three-month cycle that is just hitting full swing. The peppers are harvested, delivered and ground within a single day in order to achieve a fresh taste. Then the mixture is stored in large, blue 55-gallon drums of founder and Chief Executive David Tran's own design.

The City of Irwindale sued Huy Fong Foods on Monday, claiming that the spicy scent of ground peppers is a public nuisance in violation of the municipal code. The lawsuit came after some nearby residents complained of burning eyes and throats. 

The city asked for a temporary restraining order that would stop all operations at the factory immediately as a judge decides whether a preliminary injunction is necessary. If the restraining order is granted, a judge will then decide whether to grant a preliminary injunction during a later hearing. 

The city also asked for a permanent injunction which, if granted, would stop all operations at the plant until Huy Fong Foods can remedy the smell to both the court and city's satisfaction.

At the Kern County farm where the chilis are grown, there are still 7,000 to 8,000 tons of peppers that need to be picked, reported the Ventura County Star.

In 2012, Huy Fong processed 80 million pounds of peppers, and earlier this year it estimated that it will process at least 100 million pounds in 2013.

Tran is notoriously particular about which peppers to use in the sauce. He has worked with a grower in Ventura County for years to breed hybrid jalapeno peppers of a certain heat, color and taste so that each bottle will have a uniform taste and texture. The color sometimes varies, but Tran allows that in favor of using food coloring to make it all look the same. 

The peppers are spicy and aromatic by design, Tran said.

"If the peppers are not spicy, then that's the real problem," Tran said. 

If Tran doesn't have the correct peppers, he's willing to shut down production. In 2007, the company oversold its stock and ran out of peppers. Rather than purchasing supermarket chilis or brined chilis that Tran was unfamiliar with, he made his customers wait.

This year, Tran predicted, the price of sauce will shoot up if he cannot grind his peppers.

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