What do you do when you make a product that's loved by millions, but your neighbors say that it's making their lives unbearable? That's the issue facing Huy Fong Foods, the maker of Sriracha. The manufacturing of the famous hot sauce at its plant in Irwindale, California, has been alleged by nearby residents to cause an odor so noxious that the city sued Huy Fong Foods in late October and asked that the company close down its factory at least temporarily.
The most recent development in this saga is that the judge hearing the case in Los Angeles Superior Court has postponed making a ruling until he receives evidence of the harmfulness of the air quality in and around the plant. He told an attorney representing Huy Fong Foods that he wants more information from the company as well.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District sampled the air both inside the manufacturing plant and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Even though the district has received close to 40 complaints and its inspectors have confirmed the odor, they have not been able to trace it back to the plant. The district says that its air quality monitoring devices have found no concentrations of any particles at even close to harmful levels even inside the factory. The district has not issued any citation for violating air quality ordinances.
The legal battle began this fall after at least 18 families who live near the plant complained to the city about symptoms including swollen glands, heartburn, nosebleeds, and respiratory ailments. Some said they felt like they were being hit with pepper spray. Even if the effects are unpleasant, it has not yet been determined that being in proximity to the plant is actually harmful.
An attorney for Huy Fong Foods asserts that no evidence has been found to link the odor to the Sriracha plant. He says that claims that any particles from the factory can invade a house to a degree that makes people ill are "scientifically impossible."
Even though this business litigation has probably introduced the name "Sriracha" to people who were unfamiliar with it, when it is in the context of being a poor neighbor, the publicity can be a double-edged sword. In addition to a good legal team, the company will benefit from a good public relations team to get through this.
Los Angeles Times, "Judge delays ruling on Sriracha factory shutdown" Frank Shyong, Nov. 22, 2013