By Dana Feldman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A Los Angeles suburb that sued to curb the strong, spicy odor emitted from a chili-processing plant lost its initial bid for a court injunction against the makers of the popular Sriracha-brand hot pepper sauce on Thursday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien denied a motion from the small city of Irwindale for a temporary restraining order against Huy Fong Foods, calling the request “rather edgy.”
“You’re asking for a very radical order on a 24-hour notice,” O’Brien said during the brief proceedings.
The judge instead set a court hearing for November 12 to consider further arguments on whether there were grounds to issue a preliminary injunction against the chili factory while the court reviews the merits of a lawsuit brought against the company.
Irwindale, east of Los Angeles, filed suit on Monday saying the company has refused to take sufficient action to abate noxious fumes emanating from the plant strong enough to cause eye and throat irritation in nearby residents.
The suit says some residents have complained of headaches and others have been forced to remain indoors, or even to temporarily flee their own homes, to get relief from the smell of locally grown jalapeno chili peppers being crushed at the plant.
John Tate, an attorney for the company, said in court that the company has installed a filtration system to take care of excessive odor. He acknowledged that it does not resolve the problem completely but had “certainly improved the situation.”
“The company purchased additional filters and installation was complete Tuesday,” he said, adding that more time was needed to see how well the new system works before the end of chili-harvesting season in November, when production would be halted in any case until next year.
“If you shut us down now, we won’t know if the system works and we’ll be in the dark for nine months,” he said.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Huy Fong Foods produces up to 200,000 bottles of hot sauce a day and sold more than $60 million worth last year.
The red-colored Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, sold in clear squeezable plastic bottles with a green cap and trademark rooster logo, has become one of the top-selling condiments in the United States.
Celebrated in Bon Appetit magazine as the ingredient of the year for 2010, Sriracha, has inspired cookbooks, a food festival and a movie documentary.
The company was founded 33 years ago by David Tran, an ethnic Chinese immigrant from Vietnam, who was quoted in the Los Angeles Times earlier this week as defending the pungent nature of the chilies used in his sauce.
“If it doesn’t smell, we can’t sell,” he said.