'Oleum' Project Seeks Better Solutions to Protect Olive Oil Authenticity

Part of Europe's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program is an ambitious plan to find common approaches and analytical tools to check the quality and authenticity of olive oil.

Aug. 1, 2017
By Ylenia Granitto

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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. 

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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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