'You can taste it': Factory's burnt cheese smell irks Springetts neighborhood

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Neighbors who live near the KTB Foods manufacturing plant in Springettsbury Township say the smell of burnt cheese from the plant makes it difficult to breathe and stops them from spending time outside on their properties.

KTB Foods manufactures ParmCrisps, a baked cheese snack brand owned by New Jersey-based snack company That's How We Roll, at a factory on Innovation Drive.

"I just want to go out in my yard and breathe air," said Drew Heininger, a neighbor who has lived on nearby Stuart Drive since 1972.

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Heininger's house is about 1,200 feet north of the factory. He said his glands swell, his eyes burn and his voice becomes hoarse when the smell is in the air.

In a running log kept from July 7 to Sept. 29, Heininger recorded 31 days when he said he smelled burnt cheese, noting that in most cases, his home happened to be downwind of the plant.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has visited the site several times, and inspectors smelled something during at least one of those visits, DEP spokesperson John Repetz said, but the smell wasn't bad enough to be considered a "malodor."

The DEP defines a malodor as a smell "which causes annoyance or discomfort to the public and which the Department determines to be objectionable to the public."

That's How We Roll opened the KTB Foods plant in York County in early 2020, Repetz said.

Drew Heininger, of Stuart Drive, points in the direction of nearby KTB Foods, which is an extension of That’s How We Roll, LLC based in New Jersey, outside of his home in Springettsbury Township, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. Heininger says the snack manufacturer produces air pollution for area residents that can be described as the smell of burned cheese that wafts into the neighborhood and hangs in the air about five days per week, but sometimes more often. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A representative from That's How We Roll has talked to Heininger and discussed his concerns, said Sue Reninger, spokesperson for the company. The plant will produce a baked cheese odor because of the snacks produced there, she said.

"Bakeries do produce certain smells, but it’s important to note that we have the appropriate ventilation and air quality systems in place for a bakery operation," Reninger said.

Even so, Reninger said, That's How We Roll is investing in a new system to help reduce the smell in an effort to be a good neighbor.

DEP's Repetz said the company will likely install the new air filtration system early next year.

Other complaints: Heininger isn't the only Stuart Drive neighbor who says the smell is disrupting his life.

Lee Beard, 81, has lived on Stuart Drive for 42 years. When the smell is strong and he's out in his yard, Beard said, his chest becomes tight and he gets congested.

"We shouldn't have to live with that," he said.

Jac Howard, 41, moved to Stuart Drive in 2004.

He was working in his backyard the first time he noticed the smell. Howard said he could taste it, too, and that it was like a burnt grilled cheese sandwich.

He said the smell is a nuisance. It's one thing to have a bad smell, but it's another thing to have a bad taste in the air.

"Everyone complains about it," Howard said.