Importers' Group Announces New Labeling Rules

The North American Olive Oil Association will require its members to apply two-year best-by dates on labels, ensure that country of origin details are clear, and provide recommendations for storage and usage.

May. 23, 2018
By Daniel Dawson

Recent News

The North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) has announced a new set of rules aimed at increas­ing trans­parency and cus­tomer con­fi­dence.

Given that our mem­bers’ prod­ucts rep­re­sent about 85 per­cent of the branded olive oil sold in the U.S., these changes have the poten­tial to make a real dif­fer­ence for con­sumers.- Joseph R. Profaci, NAOOA

“Olive oil con­sumers more and more are look­ing for help in dis­cern­ing qual­ity,” NAOOA exec­u­tive direc­tor Joseph R. Profaci told Olive Oil Times. “But we real­ize that ensur­ing qual­ity also means ensur­ing accu­racy and clar­ity of the infor­ma­tion that con­sumers receive on labels, whether the infor­ma­tion has to do with the oil’s origin, the con­di­tions under which it was grown, what is in the bottle and its expected shelf life under proper stor­age con­di­tions.”

The new stan­dards require all mem­bers of the asso­ci­a­tion to apply two-year best-by dates; ensure that all coun­try of origin details are dis­played more promi­nently and con­cisely on labels; clearly label all prod­ucts that are less than 100 per­cent olive oil; and pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions for stor­age and usage.

Quality Seal Program mem­bers of the NAOOA will also have to show more strict doc­u­men­ta­tion before they label their oils as organic. If an olive oil is labeled as organic before the NAOOA can test it, the pro­ducer must “pro­vide copies of organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments from the cer­ti­fy­ing agent autho­rized under the National Organic Program (NOP) or another cer­ti­fi­ca­tion body rec­og­nized by NOP.”

Association mem­bers must comply with the group’s new stan­dards by January 1, 2019.


The changes might be con­sid­ered a modest move by a group rep­re­sent­ing the world’s largest olive oil com­pa­nies in the U.S., many of which have been fend­ing off legal chal­lenges result­ing from years of shad­owy label­ing prac­tices.

“Not exactly a game-changer,” Profaci admit­ted. “But we felt these are impor­tant steps in help­ing increase con­sumer con­fi­dence. Given that our mem­bers’ prod­ucts rep­re­sent about 85 per­cent of the branded olive oil sold in the U.S., these changes have the poten­tial to make a real dif­fer­ence for con­sumers.”

“Although there’s sig­nif­i­cant evi­dence to sup­port con­sumer trust in olive oil, includ­ing research by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that tested 88 prod­ucts labeled extra virgin and found no con­firmed adul­ter­ation in any of the sam­ples, there’s still a lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion and even out­right fake news cir­cu­lat­ing about it,” Profaci said in a press state­ment.


Profaci referred to a 2015 study by the FDA that con­cluded “three of 88 sam­ples labeled as EVOO failed to meet purity cri­te­ria, indi­cat­ing pos­si­ble adul­ter­ation with com­mod­ity oil and/or sol­vent-extracted olive oil,” although the FDA also held open the pos­si­bil­ity that geo­graph­i­cal vari­a­tions could have led to the results.

“The FDA clearly stated that it was pos­si­ble these were false pos­i­tive results due to the geo­graph­i­cal vari­a­tions in chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the oils, two [of which were] from South America and one [of which was] from Greece,” Profaci said. “Three sam­ples only rep­re­sented 3.4 per­cent of the 88 sam­ples tested, lead­ing the FDA to con­clude the risk of EVOO adul­ter­ation to be ‘low.’ Consumers deserve to know that.” he added.


The new two-year best-by labels will offi­cially codify a rec­om­men­da­tion that olive oil is best before two to three years after the har­vest date and when stored under the cor­rect con­di­tions.

Selina Wang, the research direc­tor of the UC Davis Olive Center, con­ducted a lit­er­ary review and iden­ti­fied five meth­ods for deter­min­ing best-by dates. The two-year rec­om­men­da­tion is an esti­mate obtained from her research.

“The two-year rec­om­men­da­tion is a rough esti­mate widely used in the indus­try, some oils will last longer and some not that long,” Dan Flynn, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Olive Center told Olive Oil Times. “Generally oil will taste better and have more healthy com­pounds the fresher it is.”

NAOOA mem­bers are also encour­aged to use shorter best-by dates for extra virgin olive oils from cer­tain vari­eties of olives that do not main­tain their fresh­ness for so long. The new stan­dards also require mem­bers to put explicit instruc­tions on stor­age best prac­tices.

“Store in a cool, dark place away from heat and light. Cap when not in use,” is the exam­ple cited by the orga­ni­za­tion.

The NAOOA’s changes to labels regard­ing coun­try of origin requires mem­bers to state the details of where the olives used to make the oil were grown and must be placed “imme­di­ately adja­cent” to the “imported from” or “packed or bot­tled in” state­ments.

The move comes after Deoleo, USA, which is a member of the importers’ group, set­tled a class action law­suit at the US District Court in San Francisco for $7 mil­lion. The plain­tiffs accused Deoleo of mis­lead­ing con­sumers by label­ing some of their olive oil as “imported from Italy” and dis­clos­ing in much smaller font on a sep­a­rate part of the bottle that olives from at least seven other coun­tries were used in pro­duc­tion.


As part of the set­tle­ment, Deoleo did not admit any fault in the matter, but they did remove the “imported from Italy” state­ment from their prod­ucts. A judge will decide whether or not to accept the set­tle­ment this month.

Profaci said that many NAOOA mem­bers have already adopted the new rules and most are cur­rently in com­pli­ance with the require­ments.

“While the asso­ci­a­tion trusts that each member will follow the rules they have chosen to adopt, we will con­tinue to verify,” he said.

“Over the years, we have tested thou­sands of prod­ucts. To ensure that the applic­a­ble rules and laws are enforced, we will take steps we deem appro­pri­ate under the cir­cum­stances, such as com­mu­ni­cat­ing directly with any com­pa­nies found in vio­la­tion, inform­ing author­i­ties, and even taking legal action if nec­es­sary.”

In its first-ever legal action against an olive oil com­pany, the trade group sued the makers of the Capatriti brand of oil in 2013. The civil law­suit claimed that The Gourmet Factory falsely sold oil that was chem­i­cally extracted from left­over olive skins and pits as “100% Pure Olive Oil.” The Gourmet Factory later joined the little-known USDA Quality Monitoring Program, accord­ing to a 2016 press state­ment.