` Californians Rejoice After USDA Revises 1948 Standards - Olive Oil Times

Californians Rejoice After USDA Revises 1948 Standards

May 7, 2010 9:57 PM EDT
Lori Zanteson

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The future is look­ing a healthy green, olive green actu­ally, for the Golden State’s olive oil mak­ers in light of the USDA’s recent revi­sion of olive oil grad­ing stan­dards. Effective October 25, 2010, all olive oils will have to con­form to indus­try stan­dards com­monly accepted in the US and abroad. The new stan­dards will pro­vide a com­mon lan­guage for trade and pro­vide con­sumers more assur­ance of qual­ity in the olive oil they buy, a boon for California mak­ers and con­sumers alike.

The new stan­dards will affect importers and the more than 500 domes­tic grow­ers and pro­duc­ers by ensur­ing uni­for­mity and con­sis­tency in com­mer­cial olive oil. The US has had no def­i­n­i­tion for the vary­ing qual­ity grades of olive oil, leav­ing an open door for unscrupu­lous blenders to mar­ket low qual­ity oils, label them extra vir­gin, and sell at a pre­mium price. The new stan­dards set a defin­ing lan­guage in place that will facil­i­tate the mar­ket­ing of olive oil, encour­age truth in label­ing, and pro­vide a basis of enforce­ment if mis­la­beled.

The California Olive Oil Council (COOC) filed the peti­tion with the USDA in August 2005 to adopt a stan­dard, espe­cially for extra vir­gin olive oil. Executive Director, Patty Darragh says it’s been a long jour­ney for us.” The COOC is over 200 mem­bers strong in the state that pro­duces more than 99% of the nation’s olive oil. Members have met all require­ments for COOC Seal Certification for True Extra Virgin Oil, which entail strict test­ing includ­ing extrac­tion method, free oleic acid level, and taste ele­ments.

Standards set by the USDA are now con­sis­tent with International Olive Oil Council stan­dards. COOC Seal Certification stan­dards are higher. For exam­ple, COOC requires no more than .5% free oleic acid, whereas the new stan­dards will require oils to be no more than .8%. COOC mem­ber, Jeanne Coldani of Coldani Olive Ranch says mem­bers meet bet­ter than that stan­dard.” Coldani’s Calivirgin brand has bet­ter than .1%. Though the new stan­dards won’t affect COOC mem­bers, Coldani is hope­ful they will raise aware­ness of what is on the shelves. California can’t com­pete with the pric­ing on the imports,” she says. The US mar­ket is flooded with oils pro­duced from unscrupu­lous blenders. They are mis­la­beled to attract the con­sumer. For years pro­duc­ers have claimed their oils, with­out reper­cus­sion, as extra vir­gin when they may be no more than 10% olive oil.

The expec­ta­tion among mak­ers says Darragh, is that these stan­dards and legal def­i­n­i­tions will serve notice to unscrupu­lous importers so there will be less mis­la­beled and adul­ter­ated prod­uct.” The doc­u­ments will pro­vide legal ref­er­ence of def­i­n­i­tion for any gov­ern­ment agency to enforce. The USDA, which has six months to set reg­u­la­tions and put test­ing into place, has wasted no time. A chem­i­cal test­ing lab has been in place for a year now in prepa­ra­tion for the pass­ing of these stan­dards and a taste panel is being trained to blind taste olive oils for defects.

The UC Davis Olive Center has been at the helm of olive oil edu­ca­tion, research, and out­reach for more than a cen­tury. It had a hand in California’s label­ing leg­is­la­tion and pro­vided tech­ni­cal sup­port to the COOC’s draft­ing of the peti­tion for the new stan­dards. In response to the new USDA grade stan­dards, Executive Director Dan Flynn says, It’s a big step for­ward, for the first time we’ll have the fed­eral gov­ern­ment look­ing out for olive oil qual­ity. Greater atten­tion will be paid to what extra vir­gin really means.”

Educating the con­sumer is vital for the stan­dards to be effec­tive. Dewey Lucero of Lucero Olive Oil, knows the value of an edu­cated con­sumer The US pub­lic has been trained to like bad olive oil,” he says, but he believes the new stan­dards can change that. Jeanne Coldani agrees, say­ing The more edu­cated the con­sumer the bet­ter it is for the grower because peo­ple will want fresher oil.” One way to ensure high qual­ity olive oil is a COOC cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. A mem­ber him­self, Lucero says, We pro­duce some of the best oil in the world and one of the biggest rea­sons is because it’s fresh. It’s right in your back­yard.” He is con­fi­dent that once the pub­lic gets a taste of California’s offer­ings, it will start to rec­og­nize good olive oiland will push the indus­try to pro­duce more high qual­ity oils.”

Integrity, high stan­dards and pas­sion have dri­ven California olive oil mak­ers to pro­duce qual­ity oils for years. Now that the USDA has revised their grad­ing stan­dards, the com­pe­ti­tion will be lev­eled at the mar­ket­place and con­sumers will soon expe­ri­ence a whole new taste of olive oil.

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