Environment / Environmental Law, Food

Sriracha May Get Shut Down — Everyone Panic!

Chilis, Sugar, Salt, Garlic, Distilled Vinegar, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Bisulfate as preservatives, and Xanthan Gum.

That’s how you make Sriracha sauce. Is it tasty? Sure. Does a hipster-filled Asian restaurant absolutely reek of the stuff? Yes.

Now imagine what it smells like to live next to the Sriracha factory where they mass produce that stuff, pumping out a dense cloud of vaporized high-octane chili vinegar 24/7. The residents of Irwindale, California don’t have to imagine, and the city has decided it’s sick and tired of living next to the cock-emblazoned factory and filed suit to shut down the plant.

It hasn’t taken long for the short-sighted, “screw lawyers” media narrative to take off…

A number of residents of Irwindale allege that the odor rising from the nearby Sriracha factory wafts into their neighborhood and stings their eyes and burns their throats. Somehow this is reported as a surprising fact even though the sauce is basically the liquid form of a substance police use to debilitate hippies.

How potent is pepper spray? I was once watching football in a bar and some jackhole got into a disagreement with the bouncer and decided to pepper spray him. I was a good 15 feet away and still started wretching, though part of that may have had something to do with Tim Tebow winning the game on an 80-yard TD toss.

And that was one tiny bottle, not a factory making 200,000 bottles a day.

Irwindale has asked a judge to shut down the factory until the smell is under control. The manufacturer of Sriracha, for its part, admits that the factory pumps out pepper vapor and claims that it tried to control the release of the odor by installing filters, but obviously that hasn’t addressed the whole problem. The complaint alleges that the city tried to negotiate with the manufacturer repeatedly and that the factory pledged to do something — but didn’t — and then in a subsequent meeting backtracked and refused to admit there was any odor problem at all.

Responding to this suit, the company has shifted from its earlier alleged stance that there is no problem and is rolling with the “sorry, but tough s**t” approach:

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.”

The chile itself is a hybrid jalapeño pepper calibrated by Tran and a supplier for specific spice levels. It is ground fresh, not cooked or dried.

Chiles are offloaded onto a conveyor belt at the back of the building, where they are washed, then ground. Above the grinder, exhaust fans suck the chile-laden air into several filtered pipes that run all the way to the roof, where the peppery air is expelled.

Unfortunately, the media is taking its cues from this corporate spin, focusing most of the coverage on how awful it’ll be that the plant might close or — God forbid — we have to pay more for Sriracha, rather than keeping the coverage on the community breathing in pepper spray. This is the whole crux of the tort reform mythology — build a panic around the idea that a few people getting hurt, however badly, could force a company to spend a huge lump sum. Oh, and it’s implied that awful lawyers are the real culprits making off with all that money. Unasked is just how much “more” consumers will have to pay for mass produced chili sauce. With the factory producing over 12 million 52 million bottles a year (UPDATE: Jesus, when I did this calculation I thought it was making “around 250,000 bottles a week” — 200,000 a day makes this whole argument even more insane.) even a system costing millions would raise prices less than $1 on each bottle.

In the meantime, run down to the store and make a run on their Sriracha supply a la It’s a Wonderful Life, and screw those litigious Irwindale people.

If you want to read all the allegations, the complaint is reproduced on the next page….

(hidden for your protection)

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