In the aftermath of the Sriracha Shutdown

By Dylan Gehlbach

(See complete story on Storify here.)

Code red. Foodies across the nation wept as they saw news story after news story say that Huy Fong Foods, Inc. would be ordered to cease production, possibly ending the circulation of the spicy red chili and garlic sauce that is adored by so many: Sriracha.

The Effect

The effect that Sriracha-lovers will feel in the aftermath of the shutdown, caused by odor complaints from the city of Irwindale where the Huy Fong plant is located, will be gradual and will affect the food industry in different ways.

On the supermarket side of things, all things seem to be normal… for now.

Dillon’s grocery stores are still getting supplied with the same amount of Sriracha from the Huy Fong factory as they have before, says Sheila Lowrie, the media contact for Dillon’s store divisions.

“It’s still to be determined what it will to do our facility,” says Lowrie. But for now, things are running just as before for Dillon’s, she says.

On the restaurant side of the halt on production, the effects of the shutdown could be felt much sooner.

“Yes, we have experienced a shortage,” says Lamar Johnson, store manager of the Kansas City branch of Restaurant Depot. Restaurant Depot supplies only businesses, like restaurants, with ingredients like Sriracha so that they don’t have to buy them independently. Johnson’s branch reaches as far as Lawrence, supplying Ramen Bowls in downtown Lawrence with Sriracha.

“We’ve actually limited people to a five-case limit,” says Johnson, who noticed that less Sriracha was being circulated to his branch in the past two weeks.

While both Lowrie and Johnson have kept up-to-date with what is happening at the Huy Fong factory, neither of them say that they have received any kind of statement from the factory itself about what to expect during the shutdown.

The Shutdown

On November 26, Judge Robert O’Brien ruled in favor of the city of Irwindale, Calif. in its preliminary hearing against Huy Fong. The complaint of the citizens of Irwindale, where the Huy Fong factory is located, was that the vapors released from the factory were too pungent for the citizens to stand and even had health side effects, although Judge O’Brien ruled that there was no proof of any side effects of the odor.

O’Brien’s decision means that Huy Fong must cease from doing anything in their factory to release any sort of odors for the time being.

“From what I understand, how it usually works is they make the stuff three months of the year,” says Johnson. The rest of the year, the factory is only used for distribution, he says.

Now the question is how far into the production of the sauce the factory got before they were told to cease odor-producing operations. The factory will be able to continue distribution to its buyers, but only until the supply runs out or they make the necessary changes to end the shutdown.

“We are still open for operations, but if we are forced to stop production, there will be less than 200,000 bottles a day of our product,” says an email released by Huy Fong following the ruling.

The Response

Students at KU are worrying about the potential disappearance of their favorite hot sauce.
“I have it with eggs or ramen about every other day,” says Brendan Whaley, a student at KU. “So I would say [I use it] about three times a week.”

Whaley’s eating habits would be effected if the factory shutdown got serious.

“It would probably change my eating habits a little bit but nothing too drastic.”

On the other hand, the shutdown would have more of an effect on real Sriracha heads like Jeff Sanoubane that eat it with their meals every single day.

“Life would just cease to exist,” says Sanoubane, another KU student.

Neither Sriracha fans nor the Huy Fong factory itself have taken this shortage lying down. Both are rallying for a quick return to production at the factory.

“…there will be less than 200,000 bottles a day of our product, and who would fill the market then – overseas imports,” says the previously-mentioned email statement sent out by Huy Fong in response to the shutdown, ominously hinting at the problems that could arise if Huy Fong does not open up again.

Huy Fong has also put up a banner outside of their factory that expresses the company’s displeasure with the outcome of the preliminary hearing.

The banner reads: “No tear gas made here.”

But even the company’s own attempt to show that it is unhappy with the court’s decision pales in comparison to the outcry against the shutdown that has arisen on social media websites.

There are petitions online to convince the people of Irwindale to change their minds, there are people visibly panicking over the shutdown on Twitter and there was even a hashtag created to save the factory: #saveoursriracha. The hashtag was started by the young man in the video below.

A small packet of Sriracha has gone on sale on Ebay with a buy-it-now price of $10,000 (it hasn’t sold yet).

This has all occurred without any real shortage of Sriracha or stoppage of distribution, but even the threat of a stoppage could drive many into frenzy. These are the people that buy Sriracha vodka, drink Sriracha margaritas and enjoy Sriracha popcorn. There’s even a food blog devoted entirely to Sriracha.

But for those concerned with losing Sriracha forever, there are alternatives. Here are some suggestions from some premier chefs in the country.

Ultimately, the final ruling that is really going to effect the fate of Huy Fong and Sriracha is still to come.
Huy Fong had until December 9 to file a preliminary injunction before another court date will be set, according to the preliminary injunction ruling.

Until then, Sriracha lovers will have to bite on their fingernails and use as much Sriracha sauce as they can… It may not be around forever.

Below is a video of KU students talking about their relationships with Sriracha:

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Looking at picture of food on Instagram can satisfy appetite

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Looking at picture of food can temporarily stop hunger,  says a recent study from BYU students. The study stated that looking at pictures of foods can appeal to our senses enough that it may halt the feeling of hunger for a period of time.

One group of participants was shown 60 different pictures of salty foods while another was shown 60 different pictures of sugary foods. Both were asked to rate the foods by how appetizing they looked and were provided with complimentary peanuts to snack on during the study.

At the end of the study, the group that rated the sugary foods had eaten more peanuts than the group that rated the salty foods. This implies that the group that rated the salty foods got more satisfied by looking at the salty foods (none of the picture were of peanuts) and did not feel like they needed more salty foods.

This study is interesting because it goes against the common belief that looking at pictures of food makes people hungry. Next I suppose they’ll say that going grocery shopping while hungry will help you shop smarter and keep from indulging.

This is good news for Instagram, Pinterest and other artsy social media users. Now whenever hunger for some sugary or unhealthy food strikes, they can just let their eyes eat up the image and not worry about the negative effects of actually eating the food.

Sriracha lovers lose their minds

By now, everyone who used the spicy chili sauce has heard the news. Production of Sriracha hot sauce has been halted until the factory in California can find a way to contain the odor of crushed chilis released into the public.

In turn, Sriracha lovers have flocked to social media to express their concern about the pending condiment apocalypse. These are some of the more dramatic examples out there, although they aren’t uncommon.

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The potential of a Sriracha shortage has prompted schemes for quick cash and conspiracy theories.

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Time to stock up on what is left of the supply… at all costs.

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And to cap all of this off, the factory shutdown has prompted a movement from an emotional Sriracha fan to bring the sauce back immediately.

Grocery stores prepare for holiday season

The holiday season is upon us once again. We are just days away from Thanksgiving and grocery store lines will only get longer as the date gets closer.

How does a grocery store prepare for the mad rush that occurs before the holiday season?

First of all, a grocery store has to stock up. In a three-week period, the Merc in Lawrence has sold four tons of broth and five hundred turkeys, says Merc Marketing Manager Stacie Doyle. The local grocer’s bakery is producing as many pies as they can, as well as bringing in pies from other local bakeries, but they will all disappear before Thanksgiving, says Doyle.

In addition to having plenty of the holiday essentials, grocery stores benefit from hosting extra events during the holiday season,

“We offer classes in our community classroom,” says Doyle. There are holiday cooking and Christmas baking classes in the weeks leading up to Christmas. There is also a cookie sampling that takes place at the Merc, says Doyle.

While local and organic foods coupled with holiday events may draw many locals to the Merc, low prices and plenty of inventory are what draw most shoppers in the holiday season. No doubt Dillon’s and Wal-Mart will have the highest sales in the holiday season, but the Merc is doing things to stay competitive.

The Merc offers catering of full meals and side dishes with both meat and vegetarian options, says Doyle. For families that don’t have the time to provide an entire holiday meal, this option would certainly be appealing.

But no matter where you shop, don’t wait too much longer to pick up your holiday food. The lines are only going to get longer.

Frozen food industry growing… for snakes

By Dylan Gehlbach

Course options include chicken, quail, rabbits and guinea pigs. No, this is not a menu for some exotic new restaurant. This is a sampling of the rodentpro.com frozen food catalog for snakes. And who can forget the mice and rats?

Every year, more and more snake owners are switching from live to frozen prey to feed their animals.

This was evident at the annual Kansas City Reptile Show held in Overland Park last Sunday. There were nearly 10 large foam insulated containers of frozen mice, rats and other animals compared to the single cage of live mice at the show.

“It became an industry,” says Casey Willoughby, sales manager for rodentpro.com. Innovations in ordering methods, inventory and delivery methods has led to consistent growth in rodentpro.com’s sales, he says.

The rodentpro.com website allows buyers to customize their orders, see exactly how much their order will cost with shipping and track their product as it is delivered to their homes.

“It’s not too much different from ordering frozen steaks,” says Willoughby. The well-insulated packing and dry ice used keep the contents frozen throughout the delivery process, he says.

There are still some holdouts that are sticking to live feed for their snakes.

“Some people say snakes will only eat live[food],” says John Curtis, a vendor for rodentpro.com at the Kansas City Reptile Show. “You can get any snake to eat frozen, it’s just patience.”

There are, however, some varieties of snakes that will not eat frozen prey like cottonmouths and brown tree snakes to name a couple of exceptions.

Frozen snake foods are practical for pet owners who keep snakes in their homes. Owners do not need to worry about taking care of rodents in addition to their snakes but can store them in the fridge instead.

“I don’t want to have to deal with having some mouse or rat to take care of all the time if I’m just going to feed him to a snake,” says Tyler Peuser, snake owner and junior at the University of Kansas.

The convenience factor of buying frozen snake food has gotten better as well. Today, any snake owner can walk into Pet World in Lawrence, grab some frozen mice out of a freezer in the back and take them home. This gives a variety of options to snake owners.

“I just buy one [mouse] every week or two,” says Peuser, who would prefer not to keep a frozen mouse in his freezer next to his other food.

Other owners who are more comfortable keeping the frozen prey near their food are able to buy large quantities to where they may only have to make one purchase a year.

“Some buy $30 worth, and some spend up to, I’d say, $1,000 to $5,000,” says Curtis.

Snakes have to like the benefits that they get from ordering frozen foods as well. While Curtis says that the most popular types of foods ordered are small rats and large mice, there is more variety in frozen than live prey.

A snake owner can’t just throw a live chicken or quail into a cage with a snake. That would be more expensive and dangerous for the snake. With frozen foods, snakes at least get to dine with a little bit of sophistication.

Below is a video of Peuser feeding a frozen mouse to his snake:

Pumpkin season skipped in Lawrence

There are two types of people in this world.

There are those that can’t contain themselves when the “pumpkin epidemic” hits across the country and cannot stop buying, eating, celebrating, or talking about pumpkin-flavored foods. The other group? The people that see all of this and roll their eyes.

Yes, we are a month into pumpkin season and it is still going on strong. You were able to buy a pumpkin-spiced latte in the first week of October at Starbucks. You could wake up to pumpkin pie donuts at in mid-October at Dunkin’ Donuts. By the first week of November, you could gorge yourself on all-you-can-eat pumpkin pancakes for $5 at IHOP.

We’ve even sunk so low as to buy a can of these:

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But at less than two weeks to Thanksgiving, the height of pumpkin season… Where are the pumpkin options at local Lawrence restaurants?

Pumpkin beer at Free State? Not on this list.

Pumpkin ravioli at Genovese or 715? Not yet.

Pumpkin bread at Wheatfields? Nope.

Where are all of the pumpkin-flavored goodies in Lawrence? It appears that the restaurant powers that be in Lawrence have all gotten together and gone on strike against the epidemic that we call pumpkin season. If they haven’t given in by now, maybe they never will.

New Ramen joint rises quickly in Lawrence

The new restaurant in town, Ramen Bowls, has risen quickly since its opening last month. One of the things that could have contributed to so much of the restaurant’s success is a great use of social media.

While many well-established restaurants still may not even have a decent Facebook page or Twitter account, Ramen Bowls has not only created both of these but has used them effectively as well.

The Ramen Bowls Facebook page has pictures of customers eating their soup, the food that they serve, and even some cool things seen around the restaurant (check out this picture of a fan that already has a tattoo of the restaurant’s logo). Beyond this, Ramen Bowls makes it clear that they read comments that are posted to their page. Even comments on their photos have likes on them proving that the restaurant has at least glanced at them, something rare on a restaurant Facebook page.

While the restaurant’s Twitter account gets less attention from Ramen Bowls than its Facebook page, it does a good job of catering to the young Twitter crowd, possibly gaining more business. The tweet below surely got them some new business in Lawrence on November 1:

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In the span of being open for a month, the restaurant has even created a food challenge to generate more buzz in the community. Beginning on Halloween, Ramen Bowls began its Ghost Pepper Ramen challenge. Winners get a t-shirt and the first three winners had their pictures posted the restaurant’s Facebook page.

The new restaurant downtown no doubt has gotten most of its success because of the food that it has served, but the little things like creating a buzz in the (social networking) community are crucial as well. In just a month, Ramen Bowls has utilized this and used it to its advantage.

Study finds surprising facts on obesity

A study from the Pew Research Center has concluded that 68 percent of Americans are overweight with over a third of the United States population considered obese.

This was in strong contrast to what most of the study participants considered their weight to be. Only 31 percent of participants considered themselves to be overweight with 63 percent of the participants saying that they are at an acceptable weight.

While the study does rely on statistics to produce these results, the definition of the term overweight may skew the results of the study. The study uses BMI to measure whether or not someone is overweight. BMI is a measurement that takes into account height and weight and is not always an accurate measure of obesity.

Another interesting aspect of the study is that obesity is prevalent in people living in poverty. This was consistent with race, but the level of obesity of those in poverty peaked among women. Obesity among black men is at 37.1 percent compared to 56.8 percent in black women.

Obesity in white women that were not impoverished was at 29 percent while 42 percent of white women living in poverty were obese.

Despite more options, kids not eating healthy in restaurants, study says

Only 3 percent of kids meal combinations met the food industry’s Kids LiveWell standards, says a Yale study.

Although there are more options on kids menus in fast food restaurants today, kids just aren’t picking the healthy choices. While there are currently more healthy side options and healthy beverage options for kids than ever before, kids and parents are not considering health when choosing what to eat.

This trend goes beyond kids meals. Adult menus also have more healthy options than ever before, but only a small percentage of adults are actually choosing these options.

The study says that while the number of healthy options at restaurants has increased, the number of regular menu items has increased proportionally. This means that the ratio of healthy foods to unhealthy or regular foods stayed roughly the same.

But what constitutes an “unhealthy” food or an “unhealthy” beverage? Clearly, items like bacon cheeseburgers would be deemed unhealthy, but how far does the definition of unhealthy go in this study?

The study recommends that fast food restaurants try to limit advertising of unhealthy foods to children and teens. While this may seem like a noble goal, the study does not say what percentage of overall fast food advertisements market healthy vs. unhealthy foods.

Without that data, we can’t know whether or not children are being tempted by fast food restaurants to eat unhealthy foods or if the customers just prefer those foods in the first place.

FDA takes a stand against PHOs used in trans fat

After deciding that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are unsafe to use in foods, the United States Food and Drug Administration has opened a 60-day period of determination to decide the next action that needs to be taken against PHOs (The FDA news release can be found here).

PHOs are the main source of trans fat in the average diet. The FDA says that one of their studies concluded that cutting PHOs from the American diet could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths related to heart disease.

The biggest piece of evidence that launched the period of determination is a study from the Independent Institute of Medicine that declared that trans fats provided no health benefits, nor were they safe to ingest.

The decision to look into whether or not food producers will be allowed to use PHOs in the future does create some points of controversy.

While most people would acknowledge that trans fats are bad for them, many would choose to keep them in their diet if it means their food continues to taste good. One could also compare a ban on trans fats to a ban on a product like alcohol. While most alcohol does not benefit a person’s health, that does not stop them from wanting to enjoy it. It’s the same way with cigarettes.

The use of alcohol and cigarettes could teach the FDA something about people. Maybe people don’t care if ingesting a product is good for them as long as it makes them feel good. If trans fats in food make people feel good, then it may be difficult to rip them away from the public.

The FDA’s docket on partially hydrogenated oils used in foods is open for comment for a 60-day period here.