The Sriracha Apocalypse: Huy Fong Foods Is in the Hot Seat


The Internet is astir again as Sriracha lovers are biting their nails. Doomsday is suspected to be closer than expected. America’s favorite hot sauce factory Huy Fong Foods has been denounced a public nuisance, and with its ill-fated future, fears of the Sriracha apocalypse are nigh.

For those concerned, it is the quintessential rooster hot sauce that is in jeopardy, the famous American version of original Thai sauce. The aromatic condiment was first popularized with seafood and has been around since the 1930s. The name is derived from the Thai city of Si Racha, and consisted of a chili pepper paste, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and salt. In 1980, a Vietnamese immigrant, David Tran, devised his own concoction, iconically branding his product with his astrological sign: the rooster. He opened up a single-use factory and got to production. Tran’s sauce is a bit thicker and spicier than its Thai ancestor, but it has developed a devoted following of consumers who claim to eat it on everything.

For four to five months out of every year, from June to October, Huy Fong Foods processes millions of pounds of jalapeño peppers to supply the world with its hot sauce. Last year, residents of Irwindale, California, the home city of the factory, issued complaints that the ensuing odors and fumes from peppery production caused burning throats and eyes, nose bleeds, and other respiratory complications. Huy Fong Foods was sued by the city for improper production filtration in October. Although the pepper grinding season was grinding to a halt, residents kept insisting that the nuisances continued throughout the bottling process, and a local judge cited an odor-related lawsuit against Huy Fong in November, ordering them to partially halt production.

Panic for lovers of the hot sauce emerged when fear of production ceasing entirely spread throughout social media last fall. Hashtag #srirachaapocalypse was created to spread news of the devastating news quickly, and now Huy Fong Foods finds themselves in even a hotter hot seat. Due to persistent complaints of nearby households, the city council declared the company a public nuisance as of Wednesday, and allotted the company 90 days to remedy the problems of the emanating smells–or else.

Is it tough luck, Chuck? Too bad, so sad, Sam? For starters, even if the Irwindale manufacturer has to stop production momentarily, or permanently–which is reported to be unlikely, there are apparently enough barrels of product to last consumers for about 18 months. In addition, the Huy Fong Food’s factory disperses its hot sauce to several large regional distributors, which have their own reserves to help battle against the sauce’s fate. Although the plant is finding itself in a bit of hot water, a shortage scare is not imminent. For now.

There are also some alternatives for “The Rooster Sriracha” lovers which may help appease the nervous sweats. Trader Joe’s makes its own version of the hot sauce, and Tabasco has released reports that they are also working on their own version of a chili-paste sauce. If all else fails, there are also plenty of recipes available online for those who would like to venture into making their own spicy paste.

Company owner and CEO, Tran, insists that the insinuating concerns are steeped in controversy. Although he has recently expanded his factory to facilitate production, he is not convinced the smelly complaints are warranted. In his defense, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which includes Irwindale, with a populations of just over 1,400, has never cited the company for any atmospheric nuisance or disturbance. A spokesperson for the district says when inspectors visited the factory, it was determined Huy Fong was not subject to any air quality violations. In addition, the spokesperson has reported that a majority of the 70 complaints received since April 7 were issued from only a handful of households. Further investigation discovered that the first formal complaint was issued by a relative of a city official.

Lastly, the spokesperson issued a comment stating that if the smell was as dangerous as the grievances suggest, the frustration would have generated a much larger impact, producing hundreds of complaints. Instead, some locals claim to not know what all the fuss is about. Tania Bueno, a salon owner with a store front a few blocks from the manufacturers told TIME last February that she has never been bothered by a smell from her neighbors and none of her clients ever complained about odors either. To offer the town the opportunity to check the facility out for themselves, Tran offered public tours into the plant, so Irwindale citizens could see behind the mask that seemed to offend their olfactory senses.

City officials claim, if necessary, they will come into the factory to install the proper air-filtering devices and bill Tran for the expenses. But before that happens, Huy Fong has 90 days to remedy the present issues. John Tate, one of the company’s attorneys, states there is already an action plan set to try to eliminate the fumes with carbon filters.

Despite the conspiracies and Huy Fong Foods’ open-door gestures, the factory may still be in the hot seat, but an impending Sriracha apocalypse should not be feared. Even though the company seems confident they can fix the problem before the pepper-grinding season begins in June, which is way before their deadline, they are still apprehensive of an ongoing fray with the city. One proposed solution is for the company to find a new home if the issues within Irwindale cannot be resolved, but Tran is reluctant to move. His world-famous, signature hot sauce is comprised of jalapeños that come from a single supplier in the area, and the Sriracha maker has a personal investment in the pepper selection, carefully monitoring the entire growing season. Although the factory could move, Tran could not take his pepper fields with him.

Opinion by Stacy Feder
Twitter: @alemonlot

Los Angeles Times

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