With a little help from state government officials, the dispute between Sriracha and the city of Irwindale is over. As of May 29th, mayor Mark Breceda dropped a lawsuit against Huy Fong Foods (the company that owns Sriracha) and the city council withdrew complaints it had about Sriracha’s pepper processing plant. In addition Huy Fong upgraded the air filtration systems at its Irwindale plant, a move that will hopefully satisfy residents when pepper-grinding season begins in August.
The city of Irwindale – which is located about 25 miles northeast of Los Angeles – filed a lawsuit against Huy Fong Foods in October 2013 after residents complained that fumes from the factory were causing watering eyes, burning throats, and other illnesses. The fumes are caused by one of the first stages of Sriracha production, which is to wash and crush jalapeno peppers before they are mixed with other ingredients and bottled. Particles from the peppers are sucked through a filtration system and out of the factory. But Irwindale claims that the filtration system does not work well enough.
The Irwindale factory was opened in 2011 to triple production of Sriracha in response to a recent spike in demand for the hot sauce. The South Coast Air Quality Management District only started receiving complaints about the factory on October 21, 2013 – none of which could be confirmed. Nonetheless, Iriwndale officials took legal action against Huy Fong after David Tran – owner of Huy Fong Foods – ignored requests to update the Sriracha plant’s filtration system. For his part Tran felt that he was being harassed by the city that had invited him to open a plant there.
Gov. Jerry Brown stepped in to alleviate tensions between Huy Fong and Irwindale after Tran publicly welcomed suitors from other states to come and attempt to draw him away. The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. began reaching out early this year and arranged a tour of the Sriracha plant for mayor Breceda and an Irwindale city council representative. The state also confirmed from The South Coast Air Quality Management District that there were no significant odor problems in Irwindale and that the complaints they received in October were limited to a handful of residents. Leslie McBride, deputy director of business investment services in the economic development office, represented the Brown administration during the tour, and although Gov. Brown was kept in the loop, no official incentives came from Sacramento.