Small Sampling in Sweden Spurs Debate on Tasting Panels

Sweden tested 21 brands that it suspected could be mislabeled and found most of them were. Producers and regulators are arguing over the survey's methods.

By Daniel Dawson
Feb. 26, 2020 13:21 UTC

In a small, two-year sur­vey, the Swedish Food Agency found that 17 of 21 bot­tles labeled extra vir­gin olive oil did not meet the stan­dard for the grade.

The oils that failed were either vir­gin grade or lam­pante. None of the tested oils was found to be blended with another type of oil alto­gether.

We could estab­lish non-com­pli­ances where the olive oil in the bot­tles was not con­sis­tent with the declared cat­e­gory on the label. The con­sumers did not get what they paid for.- Erica Fiume, food inspec­tor for the city of Stockholm

Extra vir­gin is a qual­ity label that many pay extra for,” Aron Lindén, the state inspec­tor at the Swedish Food Agency, said. It is dis­turb­ing that only a few of the oils we exam­ined meet the require­ments.”

The selected oils were taken from retail estab­lish­ments and ana­lyzed using chem­i­cal and organolep­tic tests.

All 17 of the olive oils that failed did so in the organolep­tic eval­u­a­tion, which was con­ducted by a European Commission-approved panel that is also rec­og­nized by the International Olive Council.

The test­ing was under­taken as part of con­for­mity checks that are man­dated by the European Union to ensure that prod­uct label­ing is com­pli­ant with legal require­ments.

The fact that only 21 brands were tested over a two-year period — sam­ples the agency already sus­pected for one rea­son or another — sug­gests scant enforce­ment of inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized olive oil stan­dards in Sweden, like every­where else. In 2018, Sweden’s olive oil imports amounted to 42 mil­lion Swedish Krona ($43.8 mil­lion), accord­ing to the mar­ket data provider, Statista.

See Also:Olive Oil Labeling

The sam­pling was focused on prod­ucts where the Swedish Food Agency sus­pected a major risk for non-con­for­mi­ties, in this case in olive oils of the cat­e­gory extra vir­gin’ sold at the retail level,” Erica Fiume, a food inspec­tor for the city of Stockholm, told Olive Oil Times.

Fiume said the agen­cy’s focus on high-risk items likely con­tributed to a high fail rate that should not be con­sid­ered rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the broader sit­u­a­tion in Sweden.

To get a rep­re­sen­ta­tive fig­ure of the over­all con­for­mity of extra vir­gin oils in Sweden, we believe a greater num­ber of sam­ples would be nec­es­sary,” she said.

Fiume added that the Swedish Food Agency did not estab­lish whether the prod­ucts had been inten­tion­ally mis­la­beled or the qual­ity of the oil had degraded over time.

According to the agency, all of the com­pa­nies which had olive oils fail the test­ing were noti­fied and have since taken steps to ensure bet­ter label­ing accu­racy.

Punitive mea­sures – includ­ing pro­hi­bi­tions on putting the oils in ques­tion back on the mar­ket – were taken against some of the com­pa­nies. However, the agency did not spec­ify which com­pa­nies were being pun­ished.

Two of the oils that failed belong to a Swedish com­pany, Di Luca & Di Luca, that imports Mediterranean foods. Its Zeta Classico and Original brands turned out to be lam­pante and have been taken off the mar­ket, accord­ing to the com­pany and the Swedish Food Agency.

Christian Di Luca, the CEO of the com­pany, crit­i­cized the results of the agency’s test­ing. He said sep­a­rate tast­ing pan­els had found the two oils in ques­tion met all of the stan­dards for extra vir­gin olive oil.

One of our oils in the test has been judged by 10 dif­fer­ent taste pan­els to have all three [chem­i­cal, phys­i­cal and organolep­tic] qual­i­ties,” he said.


However, Fiume stood by the results of the Swedish Food Agency and said only the data from the European Commission-approved panel could be used in deter­min­ing whether the oils qual­i­fied as extra vir­gin or not. The result is objec­tive, accu­rate and legally cer­tain,” she said.

Helene Rehnberg, the pur­chas­ing man­ager at Di Luca & Di Luca, also crit­i­cized the Swedish Food Agency and repeated an argu­ment pre­vi­ously made by an audit­ing firm when it ana­lyzed the use of tast­ing pan­els in deter­min­ing clas­si­fi­ca­tions in Spain.

We want the Swedish Food Agency to crit­i­cally review the results of the organolep­tic method of analy­sis and that the leg­is­la­tion be taken up for review in the E.U.,” she said. As it now appears, the assess­ment of fra­grance and taste weighs just as heav­ily as the chem­i­cal analy­sis when assess­ing the qual­ity of olive oil and the results are incon­sis­tent, cre­at­ing major prob­lems for the entire indus­try and unnec­es­sar­ily wor­ry­ing the con­sumer.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers found there was a 30 per­cent vari­abil­ity in the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of extra vir­gin olive oils among tast­ing pan­els it reviewed.

It is evi­dent that the organolep­tic tests cur­rently estab­lished within the area of vir­gin and extra vir­gin olive oil rep­re­sent an inap­pro­pri­ate qual­ity con­trol mech­a­nism that vio­lates the most ele­men­tal prin­ci­ples of the Spanish legal sys­tem, and gravely harms the pub­lic and the olive oil indus­try, fre­quently gen­er­at­ing legal uncer­tainty and inse­cu­rity which, ulti­mately, dis­credit the sec­tor and cause seri­ous finan­cial harm to the indus­try,” the audi­tors wrote in their report.

Fiume dis­agreed and said the sys­tem in place was designed to pro­tect con­sumers and is doing its job suc­cess­fully.

Official con­trol in the E.U. focuses on con­sumer pro­tec­tion and mar­ket fair­ness,” she said. We could estab­lish non-com­pli­ances where the olive oil in the bot­tles was not con­sis­tent with the declared cat­e­gory on the label. The con­sumers did not get what they paid for.”


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