The International Olive Council (IOC) has released its list of certified physicochemical testing laboratories for 2017.
One hundred and five certifications were awarded to 74 laboratories in 15 countries. Spain led the way with 34 certifications for 20 labs.
When there’s a commercial transaction, the buyer has a right to require testing by the IOC standard to verify that it meets the IOC definition of extra virgin.
Three types of certifications were awarded by the IOC: basic testing, advanced testing and residue and contaminant testing. However, the advanced testing certification is the only one that is commercially required for both olive oil quality and authenticity.
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“Advanced testing is composed of authenticity related tests such as fatty acid profiles and peroxide values,” John Reuther, president of Eurofins Central Analytical Lab, said. “Those are all commercially required tests for trade.”
The IOC awarded 71 certifications for advanced testing recognition. Laboratories certified to do advanced testing span the Mediterranean region and extend all the way to Canada and China. The Madrid-based organization also released its list of approved sensory labs. There were no U.S. labs among those accredited.
Eurofins remains the only privately-owned American laboratory to receive the IOC recognition. The company has partnered with Olive Oil Times to offer its olive oil testing services via the online testing portal oliveoiltest.com.
The only other American lab that received certification this year belongs to the New York-based subsidiary of the Sovena Group, a Portuguese olive oil producer.
Reuther said that the groundswell of interest in olive oil authenticity led the lab to seek certification, which it received last year for the first time.
“Most of the olive oil that is used in the US is imported and thus falls under an international standard,” he said. “In order for us to provide data on those types of products we really needed to be a recognized laboratory. If someone in the US is buying olive oil from a foreign supplier, that supplier would not recognize our data unless we were certified.”
Reuther’s lab deals with both domestic olive oil that is being exported and foreign olive oil that is being imported. He said the lab’s job is to make sure everyone is getting what they bargained for.
“When there’s a commercial transaction, the buyer has a right to require testing by the IOC standard to verify that it meets the IOC definition of extra virgin,” he said. “Before that transaction occurs, the sample would be sent to a lab to verify that it meets that standard.”
Olive oil purchasers, wholesalers, supermarkets, private labelers, consumer advocate groups and media organizations are among the different types of companies that send olive oil samples to be tested in these labs.
In addition to the 71 advanced testing certifications, 10 basic testing certifications and 24 residue and contaminant testing recognitions were awarded by the IOC.
Basic testing looks at critical olive oil quality parameters, while residue and contaminant testing is targeted at contamination that may occur during processing or be left over from pesticide application.
Normally companies that buy and sell olive oil are not required to have either certification for their products.
The certification process for IOC approval can be timely and expensive, depending on the pre-existing capabilities of the lab.
The lab’s techniques must be ISO/IEC 17025 accredited, which is an internationally recognized norm and demonstrates that the lab is technically competent. The lab must also have a certain minimum level of staff experience and equipment.
Once all the paperwork is filled out, then the IOC sends out test samples to the lab.
“They send proficiency samples — actual olive oil samples — for us to test as part of a proficiency study,” Reuther said. “That happens once a year. We submit the results to the IOC and then they grade us. If we pass then we’re allowed to continue on as a recognized lab.”
According to Reuther, there are many labs in the US that test olive oil, but whose techniques are not ISO/IEC 17025 accredited. IOC recognition is not required for domestically produced and traded olive oil.
However, Reuther predicts that more private laboratories will seek IOC recognition over time. This would likely be driven by America’s burgeoning hunger for and increasing production of olive oil.