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Hot Sauce Maker In A Jam


The factory that makes and bottles Sriracha sauce is in trouble - for the second time this year. First, one of the company's Southern California plants faced a shutdown after neighbors complained about the pungent odor there, and now a California Department of Public Health has placed a 30-day hold on all new bottles of Sriracha, citing health concerns. NPR's Sam Sanders reports.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: The bright red bottle with the green tip and a rooster on the label - Sriracha. It's everywhere. Some 20 million bottles of the chili pepper sauce were sold nationwide this year, but Sriracha might be as unlucky as it is popular. Earlier in the year, one of two Southern California plants that makes the sauce was almost shut down after neighbors complained the fumes caused teary eyes and scratchy throats. Now, another challenge.

RANDY CLEMENS: There's an agency with the state now that has issued a decree that Hoi Fung Foods had to hold all their products for 30 days before shipping them out.

SANDERS: Randy Clemens is the author of "The Sriracha Cookbook." He's been closely following all of the sauce's recent woes. Clemens is talking about the California Department of Public Health. In a statement, the department said Sriracha made in the new Irwindale, California factory has to be held for a month after its bottled.

That's because of a new manufacturing method that could lead to microorganisms in the sauce. Hoi Fung Foods wouldn't speak with us, but the department says the move has been in the works with company input for several months. But not everyone says they got fair notice.

DAMON CHU: They notified us on a Friday and the shut it down on Monday.

SANDERS: Damon Chu is the president of Giant Union Company. They distribute Asian foods like Sriracha. He thinks the new measure could cost him up to $400,000 because he doesn't keep a large inventory on hand. He gets a Sriracha shipment every other day. Chu says stopping that for a month is like suddenly turning off all of your water.

CHU: Did you store any water in your house? No. You don't storage. Why? Because you know when you turn the switch, water coming.

SANDERS: Chapman, who wrote that Sriracha cookbook, says that most Sriracha lovers won't suffer that badly.

CLEMENS: They have the not sauce. Will there be a little increase in price? Possibly. But I can't imagine it would cause a shortage.

SANDERS: Paula Olmeda lives just down the street from the Sriracha factory in Irwindale. She thinks people shouldn't worry about a Srirachapocalypse. That's what people on Twitter are calling a possible shortage.

PAULA OLMEDA: I mean, let's not take it that far.


SANDERS: Here's the thing with Sriracha, she says.

OLMEDA: A bottle of the Sriracha lasts me a good while. It's so spicy.

SANDERS: Because a little bit goes such a long way, that one bottle you have in your fridge right now will probably last much longer than any hold. Sam Sanders, NPR News.


SIMON: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.