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City burning mad, sues sauce maker

Seeking fix for odor from new Sriracha plant

– It looked like things were really starting to heat up for this little Southern California factory town when the maker of the Sriracha chili sauce known the world over decided to open a sprawling 650,000-square-foot factory within its borders.

Getting the jobs and economic boost was great. Getting a whiff of the sauce being made wasn’t, at least for a few Irwindale residents. So much so that the city is now suing Huy Fong Foods, seeking to shut down production at the 2-year-old plant until its operators make the smell go away.

“It’s like having a plate of chili peppers shoved right in your face,” said Ruby Sanchez, who lives almost directly across the street from the shiny, new $40 million plant where some 100 million pounds of peppers a year are processed into Sriracha and two other popular Asian food sauces.

As many as 40 trucks a day pull up to unload red hot chili peppers by the millions. Each plump, vine-ripened jalapeno pepper from central California then goes inside on a conveyor belt where it is washed, mixed with garlic and a few other ingredients and roasted. The pungent smell of peppers and garlic fumes is sent through a carbon-based filtration system that dissipates them before they leave the building, but not nearly enough, say residents.

“Whenever the wind blows that chili and garlic and whatever else is in it, it’s very, very, very strong,” Sanchez said. “It makes you cough.”

Down the street, her neighbor Rafael Gomez said it not only makes him and his kids cough and sneeze, but gives them headaches, burns their throats and makes their eyes water.

The odor is only there for about three months, during the California jalapeno pepper harvest season, which stretches from August to about the end of October or first week of November.

City officials met with company executives this month and, although the meeting was cordial, the company balked at shelling out what it said would be $600,000 to put in a new filtration system it doesn’t believe it needs. As company officials were looking into other alternatives, director of operations Adam Holliday said, the city sued. The case goes to court today.

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