`Olive Oil Quality Seals? Take Your Pick

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Olive Oil Quality Seals? Take Your Pick

Jun. 13, 2013
Denise Johnson and Nancy Flagg

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More con­sumers are learn­ing that the taste and health ben­e­fits of olive oil are closely tied to its qual­ity and fresh­ness, how­ever there is still lit­tle the aver­age shop­per can do to be sure she’s buy­ing a bot­tle of EVOO that mea­sures up.

Tast­ing the oil before buy­ing it might help, but stud­ies have shown most peo­ple still choose old, ran­cid olive oil in taste tests, because that’s what they’re used to. Har­vest and best before” dates can indi­cate fresh­ness, but they pro­vide no assur­ance that the oil is free of defects and adul­ter­ation.
See more: 10 Things You Need to Know About Olive Oil
One thing you can do is look for medal stick­ers from a major com­pe­ti­tion, such as the New York Inter­na­tional Olive Oil Com­pe­ti­tion, to iden­tify this year’s award-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oils.

You might also look for olive oils that bear a des­ig­na­tion of ori­gin (DOP) label, which indi­cates it is mon­i­tored by the region that admin­is­ters the DOP and must adhere to its stan­dards and exhibit cer­tain qualites.

Or, you could look for a qual­ity seal.

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To help pro­vide con­sumers some addi­tional mea­sure of con­fi­dence in a con­fus­ing mar­ket, a num­ber of qual­ity seal pro­grams have been devel­oped that mon­i­tor and cer­tify the qual­ity of olive oils dis­play­ing their stick­ers.

Qual­ity seal pro­grams are backed with taste (sen­sory) test­ing and chem­i­cal stan­dards, and each has its own set of pass/fail bench­marks. One pro­gram, the USDA Qual­ity Mon­i­tor­ing Pro­gram, also includes reg­u­lar, unan­nounced facil­ity vis­its and trace­abil­ity audits.

The chem­istry can be con­fus­ing. But the aim of the seal pro­grams is to mon­i­tor, in the absence of a com­mon stan­dard, var­i­ous chem­i­cal and taste para­me­ters so we don’t have to all be experts.

A review of the pro­grams offered by the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA), the North Amer­i­can Olive Oil Asso­ci­a­tion, the Cal­i­for­nia Olive Oil Coun­cil and the new Extra Vir­gin Alliance bears sim­i­lar­i­ties, but no two are quite the same.

USDA Qual­ity Mon­i­tor­ing Pro­gram

The USDA stan­dards were revised in 2010 and are based on the Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil (IOC) stan­dards, except for dif­fer­ences in linolenic acid and campes­terol lim­its. How­ever, the IOC has since made revi­sions, includ­ing adding tests for the sum of fatty acid methyl and ethyl esters and phe­nols con­tent. The U.S. Stan­dards do not include these changes,” said Pamela Stanziani of the USDA Agri­cul­tural Mar­ket­ing Ser­vice, although she also noted that the stan­dards doc­u­ments can be revised in part­ner­ship with indus­try mem­bers …to reflect mod­ern busi­ness prac­tices.”

In 2012, the USDA extended its Qual­ity Mon­i­tor­ing Pro­gram to include olive oil. As part of the pro­gram, USDA inspec­tors con­duct chem­i­cal and taste test­ing, as well as reg­u­lar audits of the com­pa­ny’s sys­tems and pro­ce­dures. They look at every com­po­nent of a blend, they audit things like san­i­ta­tion, secu­rity, trace­abil­ity and coun­tries of ori­gin,” said Luisito Cer­caci, vice pres­i­dent of qual­ity, research and devel­op­ment at Pom­peian, Inc., the first and only com­pany so far to attain the QMP approval. USDA con­trols the entire sys­tem, gain­ing a deeper knowl­edge and becom­ing more rig­or­ous over time,” he said.

North Amer­i­can Olive Oil Asso­ci­a­tion Qual­ity Seal

The North Amer­i­can Olive Oil Asso­ci­a­tion (NAOOA) fol­lows IOC stan­dards in its tests includ­ing sen­sory analy­ses and an array of chem­i­cal tests. If you want to be sure about the full pic­ture of authen­tic­ity and qual­ity, there aren’t any short­cuts. You have to run them all,” said Eryn Balch, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the NAOOA.

NAOOA’s qual­ity con­trol pro­gram includes reg­u­lar test­ing of its mem­bers’ oils, pur­chased from the mar­ket­place, using stan­dards that are more strin­gent than the USDA’s,” said Balch. The key dif­fer­ences between the two sets of stan­dards are dif­fer­ent pass lev­els for linolenic acid and campes­terol, and the range of pri­mary authen­tic­ity tests. Some of the authen­tic­ity tests per­formed by NAOOA are sec­ondary” or Table II” tests under the USDA para­me­ters, mean­ing that the USDA only per­forms them if cer­tain com­po­nents in the first round of tests fail. Balch said the tests should be con­sid­ered pri­mary, to effec­tively mon­i­tor adul­ter­ation.

Cal­i­for­nia Olive Oil Coun­cil

The Cal­i­for­nia Olive Coun­cil (COOC) tests oil sam­ples sub­mit­ted by pro­duc­ers for extra vir­gin qual­ity and authen­tic­ity. The COOC test has both sen­sory and chem­i­cal ele­ments, though fewer chem­i­cal analy­ses than the USDA or NAOOA. The COOC will be review­ing its require­ments this sum­mer and may add the PPP (pyropheo­phytin) and DAGs (1 – 2 dia­cyl­glyc­erols) tests, said Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Patri­cia Dar­ragh. Dar­ragh said that PPP and DAGs are very impor­tant tools in the chem­i­cal eval­u­a­tion for grad­ing oil” and that it is more fea­si­ble to do the tests now that more labs have com­pleted the require­ments” for doing them.

Extra Vir­gin Alliance

The Extra Vir­gin Alliance (EVA) is a newly-launched non-profit trade asso­ci­a­tion with a goal of restor­ing con­sumer trust in the mar­ket­place. Pro­duc­ers world­wide can sign on with EVA and have their prod­uct sam­ples drawn from store shelves for test­ing.

EVA’s stan­dards are based pri­mar­ily on the Aus­tralian Stan­dard for Olive and Olive-Pomace Oils and on com­mer­cial prac­tices in Europe, rather than the IOC stan­dards. IOC authen­tic­ity stan­dards for sterols and fatty acid are designed for EU cli­mates and cer­tain high qual­ity oils grown in dif­fer­ent cli­mates can fail the test,” explained EVA co-founder Alexan­dra Kicenik Devarenne.

EVA’s free fatty acid and per­ox­ide lim­its are lower than other pro­grams and the PPP and DAGs tests are required. Kicenik Devarenne noted that EVA’s stan­dards will evolve over time as data is gath­ered from the mar­ket­place.”



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