OLEUM is a major project that is part of the EU frame­work pro­gram Horizon 2020, con­ceived with the goal to assure and increase the level of authen­tic­ity and qual­ity of olive oil at a global scale.

We are car­ry­ing out this notable work with a prag­matic view…with the aim to find sus­tain­able, use­ful, rel­e­vant and sharable solu­tions.- Gallina Toschi, OLEUM Coordinator

Carried out by a con­sor­tium of 20 inter­na­tional part­ners, oper­at­ing in the fields of food analy­sis, food leg­is­la­tion, indus­trial equip­ment engi­neer­ing, bioin­for­mat­ics, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and knowl­edge exchange, OLEUM is coor­di­nated by Tullia Gallina Toschi of the Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences of the Alma Mater Studiorum — University of Bologna.

According to 2016 data from the International Olive Council (IOC), the plan assumes that Europe is the largest pro­ducer of olive oil account­ing for 69.6 per­cent of world pro­duc­tion, and at present sev­eral non-EU coun­tries are expand­ing their domes­tic pro­duc­tion. While IOC mem­ber coun­tries account for 92 per­cent of world olive oil sup­ply, 81 per­cent of olive oil demand comes from non-mem­ber coun­tries includ­ing USA, Brazil, Japan, China, Australia and Canada.

In the light of these data, increas­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness and expand­ing mar­kets in non-pro­duc­ing coun­tries, com­bined with a lack of a cen­tral­ized data­bank of val­i­dated meth­ods and a lack of har­mo­niza­tion could lead to sig­nif­i­cant weak­nesses that can be exploited by coun­ter­feit­ers.

Gallina Toschi

Based on the analy­sis of the European mar­ket sce­nario from now to 2020, new com­mon approaches and ana­lyt­i­cal tools to check the qual­ity and authen­tic­ity of olive oil are timely and urgent, with a view to safe­guard con­sumers and enhance the con­fi­dence of export mar­kets, includ­ing new mar­kets and non-pro­ducer coun­tries in the EU.

On this basis, a call for pro­pos­als launched by the EU in 2013 was the start­ing point of the OLEUM project. “The call mainly referred to an improve­ment of work specif­i­cally intended for con­trol lab­o­ra­to­ries,” Gallina Toschi explained. “This means a strong research effort aimed to improve the exist­ing meth­ods while sim­pli­fy­ing them and increas­ing their afford­abil­ity. Accordingly, we started to work to pro­pose inno­v­a­tive, and most of all use­ful, tools,” she pointed out.

“First, we iden­ti­fied four main gap lev­els in the sec­tor that need to be addressed through research and devel­op­ment which include the leg­isla­tive and reg­u­la­tory aspects, the ana­lyt­i­cal sphere, the area of har­mo­niza­tion and coor­di­na­tion, and the con­sumer and mar­ket con­fi­dence,” said the coor­di­na­tor.

In this sense, the strate­gic objec­tives of the work­ing group are aimed at devel­op­ing new and improved meth­ods for assur­ing the qual­ity and authen­tic­ity of olive oil; at imple­ment­ing an inte­grated qual­ity assur­ance infra­struc­ture for meth­ods of analy­sis includ­ing ref­er­ence mate­ri­als, a down­load­able library of ana­lyt­i­cal meth­ods and com­po­si­tions; and at devel­op­ing and sup­port­ing a world­wide com­mu­nity of ana­lyt­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ries involved in the analy­sis.

The first spe­cific goal is to enable EU and inter­na­tional reg­u­la­tors and pol­icy mak­ers with an array of poten­tial solu­tions that can con­tribute to the improve­ment of reg­u­la­tory stan­dards or reg­u­la­tions based on an analy­sis of areas where a lack of meth­ods has led to fail­ures; for instance, the dif­fi­cul­ties con­cern­ing the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of “soft-deodor­iza­tion.”

Next, exist­ing meth­ods of olive oil qual­ity con­trol and fraud detec­tion will be revised, through the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of draw­backs and the improve­ment of meth­ods, in terms of per­for­mance and effi­ciency.

The OLEUM inter­na­tional group will also work to enhance the method­ol­ogy for organolep­tic assess­ment improv­ing repro­ducibil­ity and devel­op­ing a quan­ti­ta­tive equiv­a­lent pro­ce­dure (Quantitative Panel Test).

“The panel test is indis­pens­able as we can­not even think of eval­u­at­ing a prod­uct that is defined not only by the nutri­tional and com­po­si­tional char­ac­ter­is­tics but also by the sen­so­r­ial aspect, with­out a sen­sory analy­sis,” Toschi explained. “But given the costs of the test, the employ­ment of many experts and the need for cal­i­bra­tion of pan­els, we must sup­port the panel test with screen­ings tools, repro­ducible ref­er­ence mate­ri­als and the quan­ti­ta­tive deter­mi­na­tion of volatiles mol­e­cules with a role of defect trac­ers,” she added.

They also will seek to iden­tify novel ana­lyt­i­cal mark­ers with the aim of devel­op­ing and val­i­dat­ing inno­v­a­tive ana­lyt­i­cal solu­tions. “This mainly con­cerns the detec­tion of ille­gal blends of extra vir­gin olive oil and soft deodor­ized olive oils, and of ille­gal mix­tures of olive oils and other veg­etable oils,” she spec­i­fied, adding that this act will also cover the mea­sure­ment of olive oil con­ser­va­tion, in terms of fresh­ness and best-before qual­ity estab­lish­ment, and the mon­i­tor­ing of com­pli­ance with geo­graph­i­cal ori­gin indi­ca­tions.

The work­ing group will sug­gest improve­ments to inter­na­tional reg­u­la­tions and rec­og­nized pro­ce­dures (EU, IOC, CODEX, ISO) and will imple­ment a tech­nol­ogy trans­fer of new meth­ods and pro­ce­dures to the wider ana­lyt­i­cal com­mu­nity, assess­ing its pro­fi­ciency by spe­cific fit-for-pur­pose actions, and includ­ing ana­lyt­i­cal dis­cus­sions and ring tests.

“We will com­pile an inven­tory of exist­ing and emerg­ing fraud­u­lent prac­tices, pro­mot­ing an open-access knowl­edge gen­er­a­tion and dis­sem­i­na­tion by mak­ing glob­ally avail­able all the infor­ma­tion com­ing from OLEUM research and other reli­able sources,” Toschi spec­i­fied.

The goal is to engage the widest range of stake­hold­ers, such as opin­ion lead­ers and reg­u­la­tors, food and drink indus­tries includ­ing SMEs, the media, the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity, and con­sumers in the dis­sem­i­na­tion, exploita­tion and knowl­edge exchange, in order to estab­lish a sus­tain­able source of reli­able infor­ma­tion on the method­ol­ogy for authen­ti­cat­ing olive oil.

As for the tim­ing of these pro­ce­dures, the estab­lish­ment of a rec­og­nized reg­u­la­tory stan­dard, and its inclu­sion in a nor­ma­tive frame­work will require no less than 5 years.

“Very expen­sive and dif­fi­cult to apply meth­ods are often pro­posed, and through a com­pletely dif­fer­ent approach, we are car­ry­ing out this notable work with a prag­matic view,” the coor­di­na­tor remarked. “In other words, along the lines of two waves of ana­lyt­i­cal work, which con­sist both in revi­sion and in total inno­va­tion, we will main­tain and rely on every­thing that is included in the qual­ity con­trol reg­u­la­tions of olive oil, which are among the best in the sec­tor of food qual­ity con­trol, and we will value, ana­lyze, crit­i­cize, and try to improve them, with the aim to find sus­tain­able, use­ful, rel­e­vant and sharable solu­tions,” Toschi con­cluded.


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