News Column

Huy Fong Foods Pepper Picker Still Harvesting Jalepenos

October 30, 2013

Teresa Rochester, Ventura County Star

The supplier for Huy Fong Foods' sriracha hot sauce is still picking peppers.

Oct. 30--With 7,000 to 8,000 tons of jalapenos left to pick, the Ventura County-based chili supplier for the maker of Sriracha hot sauce will keep harvesting until they hear otherwise.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Thursday will consider a temporary shutdown of Huy Fong Foods factory in Irwindale until the company quells the smell of chilies that city officials claim is causing burning eyes, irritated throats and headaches for nearby residents, according to The Associated Press.

The city of Irwindale filed the lawsuit Monday after complaints from residents. Discussions with the company about fixing the alleged problem ended last week, according to The Associated Press.

"We'll just have to see how things unfold with the city and Huy Fong right now, I guess," said Craig Underwood, owner of Moorpark-based Underwood Family Farms. "We are hoping it gets resolved quickly and amicably."

Underwood has been Huy Fong Foods sole chili pepper supplier for the past 20 years.

The Rosemead-based company is the farms' only customer for the crop, which makes up about 60 percent of Underwood's business.

The hot sauce in the green-capped clear plastic bottle with a rooster is in the midst of a cultural moment as the condiment of choice.

It's a rare brand of sauce that has a festival in its honor. Specifically, an inaugural festival that took place last weekend in downtown Los Angeles.

"I don't think you could predict something like that," Underwood said of Sriracha's popularity. "I guess it's a confluence of events and forces and tastes ... David (Tran) just wanted to produce a really good sauce for his community."

Harvest for the jalapenos began in July and is expected to wrap up next week. If production continues until the final harvest, the farm will have picked and shipped 40,000 tons of jalapenos.

If the judge does temporarily halt production at the Irwindale plant, Underwood said, harvesting would begin as quickly as possible once the factory is allowed to operate. But with the end of the season coming up, the jalapenos would likely not have much of a shelf life.

"We had a frost that wiped out one of our fields last year," Underwood said. "We're anxious to finish early. The potential for losing everything that's left is very high."

If the shutdown is permanent it would be a total loss, he said.

While most of the jalapenos, grown in Kern County, are harvested by machine, it is still a 300-person endeavor. Workers are outfitted with face masks with filters because of the capsaicin, the ingredient that makes the chilies hot.

All of the chili used to produce the year's sauce is processed and stored from September to December.


(c)2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)

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Original headline: Ventura County farm still picking peppers for Sriracha maker facing shutdown

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Source: (c)2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)

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