I am a California producer of extra virgin olive oil; what do I need to do?

If you would like to receive US Extra Virgin Olive Oil certification, contact the USDA Processed Products Branch at (202) 720–5021. The cost for certification is estimated to be about $2000 per lot. The states of California, Oregon and Connecticut already have legal standards in place defining “extra virgin.”  There is no formal mechanism in place for enforcement of the California standard, but in order to comply with that California standard, you should be sure that your olive oil is really extra virgin if you are going to call it that. There are a number of labs in the US that test olive oil on a fee-for-service basis. These include the USDA lab in Blakely, Georgia, as well as private laboratories. A list of labs is available here: US Extra Virgin Olive Oil certification labs (PDF).

Is there an IOC-recognized taste panel that will evaluate my oil?

Currently, there are no IOC-recognized olive oil taste panels in the US. IOC recognition is given only to unbiased government-sponsored taste panels that abide by the IOC taste panel regulations and pass a series of exams called “ring tests” that measure a panel’s acuity and consistency. The USDA taste panel will be eligible for IOC-recognition if they can pass the ring tests and other requirements. A number of IOC-recognized olive oil taste panels will do fee-for-service testing. A list of those panels with notes of the prices they charge can be downloaded here: International Olive Council recognized olive oil taste panels (PDF). The UC Davis Olive Oil Sensory Panel plans to seek recognition from the IOC and will provide fee-for-service sensory analysis and information about whether the oil complies with extra virgin standards. The Olive Center website will have updated information on the panel’s progress.

How do other certifications work?

There are a number of different certification schemes in place for olive oil. Most of these programs are voluntary and do not provide a legal certification of the market grade of the oil, but rather a promotional evaluation of the oil for their target market. The following is a sampling of the programs:

In Europe and other IOC member countries, the IOC standard for olive oil is in effect. There is no “certification” requirement per se; the producer may or may not have their oil tested before putting it into the marketplace. The IOC standard is enforced by each country or region, usually by spot checking, so the words “extra virgin” on a bottle have to be true. There is also a system of certification for specific geographic designations of origin that guarantee an oil as being from a particular region, typical of that region, and meeting their specific quality standards. These are referred to as DOP, DO, DOC, GDO, etc., depending on the country and designation, but all use the same blue and yellow seal. This means that the oil is made from a particular variety or varieties, grown in a designated region, and that it is harvested and milled to a specific style that is typical of that region. The European Union has a seal that appears on the labels of protected designation products.

understanding-the-new-usda-olive-oil-standards-california-olive-oil-associationIn California, the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) has a seal program that grants members a “COOC Certified Extra Virgin” seal for California-produced olive oil that meets the COOC standard for chemical analysis and is found free of defects by the COOC taste panel. Their 0.5% standard for free fatty acids is more stringent than the IOC’s 0.8% standard. Details of their certification program are available here: California Olive Oil Council olive oil certification

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understanding-the-new-usda-olive-oil-standards-north-american-olive-oil-associationThe North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) has a quality seal program for its members. The NAOOA Certified Quality seal is awarded to imported products that meet the IOC standards as determined by an IOC-accredited laboratory. The seal may be used on virgin and refined olive oils, but not olive-pomace oil. In the case of extra virgin grade oils, the NAOOA seal requires sensory analysis by an IOC-recognized panel. Detailed information about the NAOOA seal program is available on the NAOOA website:  North American Olive Oil Association olive oil quality seal program

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understanding-the-new-usda-olive-oil-standards-australia-olive-associationThe Australian Olive Association, Ltd (AOA) has an “Australian Certified Extra Virgin” seal. This seal is only found on AOA member olive oils produced in Australia. In order to receive the seal, a producer must sign a Code of Practices that addresses olive oil quality, food safety, ethical marketing, environmental standards and other issues. The oil must meet most of the same chemical standards as the IOC, and be certified free from sensory defects and possessing some olive fruitiness by three AOA-accredited tasters. The AOA program includes labeling guidelines, and parameters for the use of rancimat testing and “use by” dates. The entire code of practices is available on the AOA site: Australian Olive Association Code of Practices

understanding-the-new-usda-olive-oil-standards-olives-new-zealandThe Olives New Zealand (ONZ) certification program is open to non-members as well as members. It includes bottling and labeling standards as well as chemical and sensory criteria. The ONZ certification requires that the oil be bottled in dark glass, or if in clear glass that it be in a box or other light-excluding package. They also require a pressing date. The sensory requirements are the same as the IOC: no defects and some olive fruitiness. The ONZ program is described here: Olives New Zealand (ONZ) Certification Program

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understanding-the-new-usda-olive-oil-standards-association-3eThe international group, Association 3E, certifies oils in Italy, Spain, Greece and California as “super-premium,” a higher standard than “extra virgin.” In addition to the absence of sensory defects, the oil must be evaluated for positive attributes by a designated panel.  The producer must sign a code of practices that requires traceability and transparency of the volume of the oil certified and sold under that certification, as well as the quality of the product. A description of their certification process can be found here: Association 3E Super Premium Olive Oil Certification Process

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Table 1.  Primary chemical parameters for the determination of extra virgin status

IOC USDA COOC NAOOAAOA ONZ3E
Free Fatty acid≤ 0.8%≤ 0.8%≤ 0.5%≤ 0.8%≤ 0.8%≤ 0.5%≤ 0.3%
Peroxide Value≤ 20≤ 20≤ 20≤ 20< 20< 15≤ 7.5 (limit 8.0 for organic)
K232≤ 2.5≤ 2.5< 0.50≤ 2.5≤ 2.5≤ 1.85 (2.0 for organic)
K268≤ 0.22≤ 0.22< 0.22  K270)≤ 0.22≤ 0.22  K270)
∆K≤ 0.01≤ 0.01< 0.01≤ 0.01≤ 0.01

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See also:  USDA Olive Oil Standards Appendices

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