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Sriracha CEO on odor gripes: 'If it doesn't smell, we can't sell'

The city filed suit to suspend production of Sriracha hot sauce at the Huy Fong Foods factory, saying the odors from the plant are a public nuisance.

The Sriracha factory in Irwindale that the city claims is causing some in the area to get watery eyes or burning throats also has its supporters.

Across the street from the factory, Young Ja Whang, 68, runs the cash register at the Liquor Junior Market she owns with her husband. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., she leaves the door open and allows the scent of freshly ground chiles to waft into her store. She finds the scent mild, even a little pleasant.

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"I'm an old lady and I have no problem with it," Whang said. "Actually, we like it!"

But some neighbors say they are paying the price as Sriracha's popularity soars. They say the smell is making their eyes water and throats burn.

Irwindale filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday against the sauce's company Huy Fong Foods, alleging that the odor was a public nuisance and asking a judge to stop production.

Irwindale City Manager John Davidson said he had noticed the odor, both at City Hall and just outside the plant.

"It's pretty strong," he said.

The plant can produce up to 200,000 bottles of the hot sauce each day. 

David Tran, chief executive and founder, has offered to do what he can to control the odor and the company has twice added filters to its exhaust vents. But he says the chiles are pungent for a reason — it makes for a better sauce.

"If it doesn't smell, we can't sell," Tran said. "If the city shuts us down, the price of Sriracha will jump a lot."

From fans to detractors, there is also ambivalence among residents in the area.

Kathy Galaz, 66, said the smell is relatively mild. Galaz makes a spicy brand of salsa that makes her sister sneeze and cough, but both are undisturbed by the smell from the factory, which is visible from their front door.

"We walk the dog, we mow the lawn. It doesn't bother us," she said.

Thomas Serrato, 64, of Baldwin Park said it just smells like someone cooking chorizo.

"I knew what it was. It smelled like chili and that's all there is to it," he said. "It didn't burn my eyes or anything."

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