Sriracha factory can stay open for now, judge rules

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LOS ANGELES — Production of Sriracha can continue at an Irwindale factory, at least for now, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Robert H. O'Brien denied the city of Irwindale's request for a temporary restraining order and set a hearing for Nov. 22 to determine whether the hot sauce factory should be shut down while it fixes alleged odor problems.

The judge's ruling means that Sriracha will finish processing the peppers they need for next year's hot sauce supply. There is just over a week left in the chile harvest and processing period.

"It's rather edgy" to seek an order like this on such short notice, O'Brien said. "You're asking for a very radical order on a 24-hour notice. You probably should have come in earlier."

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

In a declaration filed on behalf of the company, lawyer John R. Tate said that air quality regulators had placed monitoring equipment at the plant and that shutting the factory down would prevent that analysis from being completed.

Initial reports from air quality inspectors found no detectable odor 20 feet from the exhaust system, according to the declaration. Odors were also not detected in nearby streets around the factory. The inspectors found a mild chile odor in the factory's lobby, rated a one on a scale of one to 10. Near the exhaust hoods where chiles are ground, inspectors rated it three, the declaration said.

David Tran, chief executive and founder of Huy Fong Foods, told the Los Angeles Times he has twice added filters to its exhaust vents. But he says the chiles are pungent for a reason -- it makes for a better sauce.

"If it doesn't smell, we can't sell," Tran said. "If the city shuts us down, the price of Sriracha will jump a lot."