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California city sues Sriracha hot sauce maker over spicy fumes

Huy Fong Foods is being sued by the city of Irwindale over claims that the hot sauce factory is pumping chili-laced air into the neighborhood.

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Residents who live near a Sriracha factory are complaining the smell from the popular hot sauce is giving them itchy eyes and migraines. (Toko Yun/Flickr Commons)

LOS ANGELES — Sriracha may be beloved by hot sauce aficionados around the world, but for one California neighborhood it might be too much of a good thing.

The city of Irwindale is suing Huy Fong Foods, Inc. over complaints that the spicy sauce is making the air around the factory unbreathable.

Residents have complained of burning eyes, irritated throats and headaches, and say they can't escape the smell even inside their homes.

"The odors are so strong and offensive as to have caused residents to move outdoor activities indoors and even to vacate their residences temporarily to seek relief from the odors," according to the complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday.

The Sriracha maker is a new resident of Irwindale after moving to the LA suburb from a nearby town earlier this year.

Factory workers are in the middle of their annual chili harvest, which lasts from September to December, when all of the sauce's chilies for the whole year are processed. 

"It's very strong — it can choke you," said James Hernandez, a resident of the community about 20 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. "Sometimes, you get tears in your eyes. I don't bring my son outside because a little kid is probably feeling it a lot worse."

Sriracha is enjoying a boom in popularity around the world. Huy Fong Foods CEO and founder David Tran told the Los Angeles Times that the company is packing about 200,000 bottles of sauce a day and is struggling to meet demand.

Love for the spicy sauce — made with hybrid jalapeño peppers, vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic — has spawned a festival, a documentary, countless recipes and some very creative Halloween costumes.

Huy Fong Foods officials told Irwindale city staff during an Oct. 1 meeting that they would "do everything possible to abate the odors," according to the complaint.

Adam Holliday, director of operations for Huy Fong Foods, told the Times that the company was considering a recommendation to install a $600,000 cleaning system that would burn the scent out of the air, but that it wanted to explore other options.

"Burning the pepper air just didn't seem safer. Maybe we didn't move fast enough, but it's a big business expense and we want to make sure it's the right investment," Holliday said.

It might be a good idea to stock up on the spicy sauce just in case the city and the factory don't come to an agreement over the wafting chilies.

"If the city shuts us down, the price of Sriracha will jump up a lot," Tran said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/131029/california-city-sues-sriracha-hot-sauce-maker-ov