Business

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.