`Pompeian First for USDA Quality Monitoring Program for Olive Oil

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Pompeian First for USDA Quality Monitoring Program for Olive Oil

Apr. 5, 2012
Curtis Cord

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The United States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA) announced Tues­day that it has expanded its fee-based Qual­ity Mon­i­tor­ing Pro­gram to include olive oil prod­ucts.

The ser­vice, which was started in 2008, cur­rently mon­i­tors 90 com­modi­ties for pro­duc­ers and sup­pli­ers of fresh and frozen fruits and veg­eta­bles.

Pom­peian, Inc., the pri­vately-held olive oil importer based in Mary­land, is the first com­pany to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram.

Randy Macon, act­ing direc­tor of the USDA’s Processed Prod­ucts Divi­sion described the mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram as a rig­or­ous audit of good prac­tices based on par­tic­u­lar indus­try needs.

The two-phase process begins with a detailed qual­ity con­trol ques­tion­naire, an in-plant audit and prod­uct sam­pling to pre-screen the com­pa­ny’s estab­lished qual­ity con­trol prac­tices.

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Dur­ing the ini­tial assess­ment, two lots are sam­pled and graded using a bat­tery of chem­i­cal tests and fla­vor panel analy­sis. Both lots must suc­cess­fully pass the ini­tial assess­ment in order for the com­pany to offi­cially move into the pro­gram and sign a mon­i­tor­ing con­tract.

In the sec­ond phase, Macon said, monthly mon­i­tor­ing, includ­ing unan­nounced vis­its, ver­i­fies with an audit check­list that the com­pany is fol­low­ing through with their pro­ce­dures and per­form­ing those func­tions.”

Sam­ples are col­lected to undergo chem­i­cal and sen­sory analy­ses at the USDA Blakely Lab­o­ra­tory to ver­ify they meet the recently revised Stan­dards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil.

Pom­peian’s two major share­hold­ers are a Moroc­can com­pany, Aïcha, and Spain’s Moreno S.A. (a com­pany half-owned by olive oil giant Hoji­blanca).

Pom­peian CEO David Ben­sadoun said his com­pany at first approached the USDA to cer­tify its prod­ucts as U.S. Extra Vir­gin under the new stan­dard’s grad­ing pro­gram. The USDA came back and said there are two ways we can do this,” Ben­sadoun told Olive Oil Times.

Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion under the grad­ing pro­gram was really expen­sive,” accord­ing to Ben­sadoun, who sus­pected the high cost was one rea­son no com­pa­nies have yet been cer­ti­fied and, he added, when Pom­peian inquired the USDA did­n’t seem quite ready for the prac­ti­cal aspects” of that pro­gram.

Chere L. Shorter, the direc­tor of the USDA’s fruit and veg­etable pro­gram and the chief author of the USDA Grade Stan­dards for Olive Oil said the U.S grad­ing pro­gram would have in fact pulled a lot more sam­ples” in order to achieve a 95 per­cent con­fi­dence for each lot,” — a far more com­pre­hen­sive analy­sis than the spot-checks under the mon­i­tor­ing ser­vice.

Nei­ther Ben­sadoun nor rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the USDA wanted to dis­close the cost of Pom­peian’s mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram, how­ever the ini­tial plant visit and on-site assess­ment, which the USDA said takes up to 5 days at a reported hourly rate of $85, and the recur­ring lab costs would likely put the pro­gram out of reach for many smaller pro­duc­ers.

The USDA typ­i­cally signs one-year agree­ments with par­tic­i­pants that con­tain back-out clauses should the pro­ducer find the ser­vice does­n’t meet its needs, Macon said.

When asked about the ini­tia­tive by Cal­i­for­nia pro­duc­ers to draft a fed­eral mar­ket­ing order Macon said he was aware of it, but called it a totally sep­a­rate action” han­dled by another USDA office.

For his part, Ben­sadoun said par­tic­i­pat­ing in the qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing ser­vice was his com­pa­ny’s way of stand­ing behind the USDA vol­un­tary stan­dard” which he hopes will become manda­tory.

The USDA adapted the pre­vail­ing inter­na­tional stan­dard to be more accept­able to Cal­i­for­nia,” Ben­sadoun said, so why not work with what we have?”

We want to reach out to our Cal­i­for­nia friends who have done a tremen­dous job pro­mot­ing qual­ity,” said Ben­sadoun, who added that Pom­peian has been acquir­ing groves and land in Cal­i­for­nia to pro­duce olive oil there too.

Let’s work together,” Ben­sadoun said, to avoid con­fu­sion, for the good of con­sumers, pro­duc­ers and retail­ers.”

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