Extra Virgin Olive Oil Shelf Life

Extra virgin olive oil’s renowned health benefits and organoleptic qualities degrade over time. Several factors play important roles in determining its shelf life.

Feb. 9, 2022
By Paolo DeAndreis

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Extra vir­gin olive oil’s renowned health ben­e­fits and organolep­tic qual­i­ties degrade over time. Several fac­tors play impor­tant roles in deter­min­ing its shelf life.

The antiox­i­dants present in EVOO allow it to retain its high-qual­ity even after many months of being bot­tled.

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In some cases, the most well-made EVOO remains extra vir­gin’ for up to two years after being pack­aged.

Although, in other spe­cific cases, degra­da­tion might occur in a mat­ter of months. As a result, choos­ing the health­i­est and most deli­cious extra vir­gin olive oil from the super­mar­ket shelf requires a few basic insights.

Look at the light

Light is the num­ber one enemy for any pack­aged extra vir­gin olive oil. The more a pack­age of EVOO is exposed to light, the more its con­tent will lose its health ben­e­fits and fla­vor pro­file.

The antiox­i­dants that keep the oil fresh will rapidly degrade, and, in just a few months of light expo­sure, the oil may even become ran­cid. This hap­pens because light acti­vates the chloro­phyll, the green pig­ment that can be found in almost all plants and a large num­ber of plant-derived prod­ucts.

The antiox­i­dants in EVOO pro­tect the prod­ucts from degrad­ing for long peri­ods, but they are pow­er­less when con­fronted with direct light expo­sure.

See Also:How to Store Extra Virgin Olive Oil at Home

Even for EVOO, polyphe­nols, antiox­i­dants do not shield from pho­toox­i­da­tion,” Maurizio Servili, a food sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the University of Perugia, told Olive Oil Times.

They do com­bat rad­i­cal-sub­sti­tu­tion processes of fat sub­stances, but the pho­toox­i­da­tion reac­tion gets over that, and ran­cid­ity comes from chloro­phyll,” he added.

This means that trans­par­ent bot­tles con­stantly exposed to light will not remain extra vir­gin’ for more than just a few weeks. Unfortunately, this will be the case for many oils stored in clear bot­tles on super­mar­ket shelves.

Even dark green bot­tles will not entirely pre­vent the light from reach­ing the prod­uct and alter­ing its chem­i­cal pro­file.

On-shelf pack­ag­ing and expo­sure is a pri­mary issue for extra vir­gin olive oils and olive oils, in gen­eral,” Servili said. Photooxidation acts quite rapidly, and degrad­ing occurs much faster when com­pared to what hap­pens in a com­pletely dark envi­ron­ment.”

Choose the best pack­ag­ing

The solu­tion to pho­toox­i­da­tion lies in olive oil pack­ag­ing.

We still find many olive oils sold in trans­par­ent bot­tles, oth­ers in green bot­tles with or with­out dark lay­ers,” Servili said. In real­ity, there is no sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ence between trans­par­ent bot­tles or dark green bot­tles.”

Those do pro­tect more, but only very par­tially,” he added. Neither are effi­cient and effec­tive, as some bot­tles might remain on a shelf for more than just a few weeks.”

While many olive oils are cur­rently sold in trans­par­ent bot­tles, espe­cially when the sale is expected to hap­pen right after bot­tling, many pro­duc­ers are now choos­ing dif­fer­ent kinds of pack­ages to enhance olive oil shelf life.

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Clear bottles and exposure to light reduce the shelf life of olive oil.

The best solu­tion is light-shielded pack­ag­ing such as the com­mon and tra­di­tional tin cans. A Tetra-Pak will also do,” said Servili, refer­ring to the com­monly-used card­board con­tain­ers coated with alu­minum and other sub­stances such as food-safe poly­eth­yl­ene.

Other solu­tions include bag-in-box pack­ag­ing, which is increas­ingly used for liq­uid foods by the indus­try.

The prod­uct is stored in a high-qual­ity plas­tic con­tainer located inside a card­board box, pre­vent­ing light expo­sure. Ceramic bot­tles, which pro­duc­ers and pack­agers are increas­ingly choos­ing for their EVOOs, also effi­ciently pro­tect from light.

Other pack­ag­ing pro­duc­ers might use includes com­pletely coated glass or inox steel con­tain­ers, which are prob­a­bly too costly,” Servili said. Other good solu­tions are those bot­tles encap­su­lated within a sec­ondary card­board pack­age that is still in the con­di­tion to shield all or most of the incom­ing light.”

Read the labels

Many olive oil pro­duc­ers apply clear labels on their prod­ucts to inform con­sumers if the EVOO is fil­tered or unfil­tered, organic and what its polyphe­nol con­tent is.

Many con­sumers pre­fer the fla­vors of unfil­tered extra vir­gin olive oils, such as Olio Nuovo, which are usu­ally cloudy and opaque due to the pres­ence of solid resid­u­als and water from the milling process in the oil.

See Also:The Essential Guide to Extra Virgin Olive Oil

However, this olive sed­i­ment and water in the oil affects how long the prod­uct will remain fresh. As a result, con­sumers more inter­ested in a prod­uct that will pre­serve its health ben­e­fits and fla­vor pro­file over time should seek out fil­tered olive oil.

The eval­u­a­tion of an EVOO shelf life also may par­tially be deter­mined by its organic or non-organic ori­gins, which, in some cases, can impact the over­all antiox­i­dant capac­ity of the prod­uct.

Organic EVOOs often come from pro­duc­tion tech­niques that tend to enhance their phe­no­lic pro­file,” Servili said. In organic farm­ing, com­pa­nies, most of the time, har­vest their olives early to avoid sea­sonal pathogens, such as the olive fruit fly.”

In a given area and with the same olive vari­ety being har­vested, organic pro­duc­tion could yield more polyphe­nols than one which is not organic-based,” he added, refer­ring to the usu­ally richer polyphe­nol and antiox­i­dant con­tent in early har­vested and trans­formed olives.

However, not all pro­duc­ers list their prod­ucts’ phe­no­lic and antiox­i­dant pro­files. Still, polyphe­nols’ hold on the actual shelf life of an EVOO might be cru­cial.

See Also:Tips for Selecting High-Polyphenol Olive Oils

Antioxidants are among the most rel­e­vant EVOO micronu­tri­ents. Their impact on human health is well-known as a grow­ing amount of sci­en­tific research con­tin­ues to uncover more about them.

Along with endow­ing extra vir­gin olive oils with many health ben­e­fits, its antiox­i­dants also pro­tect them from degrad­ing while sig­nif­i­cantly extend­ing shelf life.

Antioxidants are called antiox­i­dants because they sac­ri­fice them­selves to keep the oil fresh,” Rob McGavin, the co-founder and chair­man of Boundary Bend, told Olive Oil Times. When the oil comes under pres­sure from light, heat and oxy­gen, the antiox­i­dants just keep sac­ri­fic­ing them­selves.”

How long they take to dis­ap­pear depends on the oil’s start­ing point and stor­age con­di­tions,” he added. So if you start with 1,200 parts per mil­lion, you’re a long way in front. You’ve got a lot of antiox­i­dants there to pro­tect the oil for a lot longer.”

Consumers look­ing for extra vir­gin olive oils of European ori­gin might also be helped by the cer­ti­fi­ca­tions on their labels. Many pro­duc­ers obtain E.U. offi­cial cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, such as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), which con­firms the qual­ity of a prod­uct and its trace­abil­ity.

Such high qual­ity will more often than not include an above-aver­age phe­no­lic con­tent while also pro­hibit­ing the pres­ence of lower qual­ity olive oils in the final prod­uct.

Best-before date and dis­counts

Unfortunately, not all prod­ucts exposed on a shelf make it easy for con­sumers to under­stand when olive oils were pro­duced. For exam­ple, some pro­duc­ers may use the trans­for­ma­tion date (they likely say the press­ing date), bot­tling date or best-before date, all of which will sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer.

If the best-before date is the only one avail­able, it is best to select extra vir­gin olive oils that are as far from this date as pos­si­ble.

Most olive oils are mar­keted with a best-before indi­ca­tion equal to 18 months from pack­ag­ing,” Servili said. If the con­sumer finds an EVOO close to that date, let’s say up to five months ear­lier, then they could prob­a­bly try to find a fresher bot­tle.”

Many in food shops do exactly the same with other prod­ucts, such as milk, when they reach beyond the first line of con­tain­ers to get the fresher prod­uct,” he added.

See Also:Cooking With Extra Virgin Olive Oil

However, the best indi­ca­tor of EVOO fresh­ness is the har­vest date, when the clock begins tick­ing for the degra­da­tion of the olives and hence the oil. Therefore, con­sumers should not select oils with a har­vest date more than 18 months old (some would argue 12 months to 24 months).

For lower qual­ity prod­ucts, such as vir­gin olive oils, degra­da­tion takes place much more quickly.

Even within the extra vir­gin olive oil cat­e­gory, there are dif­fer­ences. It depends on the olive oil con­tents and the com­po­si­tion of the fatty acids,” Servili said.

Special offers from super­mar­kets often allow con­sumers to pur­chase prod­ucts that are nor­mally not within their food bud­get range. These offers occa­sion­ally include extra vir­gin olive oils mar­keted by renowned brands. Still, they might require addi­tional con­sid­er­a­tions.

Servili warns that these dis­counted offers often include lower-qual­ity EVOOs or ones beyond their best-before date. Therefore, con­sumers should care­fully read the label of any dis­counted oil to see if it is worth the sav­ing.

Where to buy fresh extra vir­gin olive oil

Specialty food shops that deal directly with pro­duc­ers or importers are the best place to start when look­ing for fresh extra vir­gin olive oil.

The retail finder on the Official Guide to the World’s Best Olive Oils makes it easy to find award-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oils near you or through online retail­ers.


Updated Feb. 9, 2022 20:08 UTC

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