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Sriracha Factory Saga Blamed on Faulty Science

Photo: Hillary Dixler/, cjmartin/Flickr

It looks like the City Council of Irwindale, California used bad science to create its case against Huy Fong Foods, the manufacturer of Sriracha. Last year, the city took Huy Fong Foods to court after residents complained that the plant's production of its signature hot sauce caused unpleasant odors. It also labeled the factory a public nuisance and temporarily shut down the plant. According to internal documents obtained by MuckRock through the Freedom of Information Act, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) — the agency responsible for regulating air pollution — bungled their investigation. Their experiment to test the safety of Huy Fong Foods' pepper grinding process was deficient, though it ultimately was not the reason the city council decided to drop the case.

Vice points out that instead of conducting their experiment in a factory setting, the SCAQMD carried out their tests in a kitchenette. The group also performed the experiment when it wasn't pepper grinding season at Huy Fong. To make Sriracha, the factory uses over 100 million pounds of red jalapeños each year, but the investigators only used three pounds of green jalapeños in their test.

According to the documents, the SCAQMD also failed to use the factory's process for grinding the peppers: They used a manual grinder "to simulate the grinding process" and food processor "to simulate the grinding and mixing processes." Without acknowledging that using home appliances to grind peppers is incomparable to grinding peppers in a factory, they then measured the results and found that there was a "substantial increase" in the number of particles in the air during the hot sauce making process. Essentially the city council went off of results from a incredibly small-scale experiment that failed to account for variability.

Add the fact that most of the complaints against the Sriracha factory came from just four households makes it difficult to understand why the city council waged such an intense battle against the hot sauce maker. All is well now though: the city dropped the lawsuit and public nuisance declaration in May and there's a(n unrelated) Sriracha-themed EDM festival coming up in August.

· Srirachagate Revisted, Pt. 1 [MuckRock]
· The Jalapeño Grinding Experiment [Vice]
· All Sriracha Coverage on Eater [-E-]