Report: Most Imported Extra Virgin Olive Oils Aren't Extra Virgin

Most olive oils labeled as extra virgin sourced from several California supermarkets were substandard, according to the UC Davis Olive Center.
Plaintiffs in both cases allege the distributors knew the oil wasn't ‘extra-virgin’ by the time it reached consumers.
Jul. 14, 2010
Denise Johnson

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In a report released today, 69 per­cent of imported olive oil sam­ples and 10 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia olive oil sam­ples labeled as extra vir­gin failed to meet the IOC/USDA stan­dards for extra vir­gin olive oil.

Teams from the Aus­tralian Oils Research Lab­o­ra­tory in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales and the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis Olive Cen­ter ana­lyzed 14 imported brands and five Cal­i­for­nia brands of extra vir­gin olive oils from three dif­fer­ent regions of Cal­i­for­nia.
See more: UC Davis Report
The two lab­o­ra­to­ries eval­u­ated the oils based on stan­dards and test­ing meth­ods estab­lished by the Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil (IOC) and United States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA), as well as sev­eral newer stan­dards and test­ing meth­ods adopted in Ger­many and Aus­tralia.

The tests found that sam­ples of imported olive oil labeled as extra vir­gin” and sold at retail loca­tions in Cal­i­for­nia usu­ally did not meet inter­na­tional and US stan­dards. Sen­sory tests showed that these failed sam­ples had defec­tive fla­vors such as ran­cid, fusty, and musty. Neg­a­tive sen­sory results were con­firmed by chem­i­cal data in 86 per­cent of the cases.

The IOC and USDA chem­istry stan­dards often do not detect defec­tive olive oils that fail extra vir­gin sen­sory stan­dards. The report con­cluded IOC/USDA stan­dards would be more effec­tive in assess­ing and enforc­ing olive oil qual­ity by includ­ing another test referred to as the German/Australian DAGs stan­dards which were recently adopted in Ger­many and Aus­tralia to help detect the adul­ter­ation of extra vir­gin olive oils with refined olive oils. While the IOC/USDA chem­istry stan­dards con­firmed neg­a­tive sen­sory results in only 31 per­cent of cases, the German/Australian DAGs and PPP stan­dards sup­ported the neg­a­tive sen­sory find­ings in 86 per­cent of cases.

Of all imported olive oil brands tested only one, Kirk­land Organic, was found to pass the sen­sory tests with all three regional sam­ples col­lected. As for the Cal­i­for­nia brands just one, Bar­iani, exhib­ited sen­sory defects suf­fi­cient to fail extra vir­gin sen­sory stan­dards.

Just one sam­ple, from Safe­way’s pri­vate label brand, had an acid­ity level above the .8% extra vir­gin thresh­old with a .84 read­ing, though other imported sam­ples came close to that. The FFA results for the Cal­i­for­nia oils topped out with a .38 read­ing for Bar­iani. The low­est result of all olive oils tested was McEvoy Ranch Organ­ic’s .16 level. Free fatty acid­ity is con­sid­ered a direct mea­sure of the qual­ity of the oil, the lower the num­ber, the bet­ter. Fac­tors which lead to a high FFA in olive oil include fruit fly infes­ta­tion, delays between har­vest­ing and extrac­tion, fun­gal dis­eases in the fruit, and care­less extrac­tion meth­ods.

All sam­ples were within the IOC/USDA limit for per­ox­ide value (PV).

The chem­i­cal test­ing indi­cated that the sam­ples failed extra vir­gin stan­dards for rea­sons that include one or more of the fol­low­ing:

  • oxi­da­tion by expo­sure to ele­vated tem­per­a­tures, light, and/or aging;
  • adul­ter­ation with cheaper refined olive oil;
  • poor qual­ity oil made from dam­aged and over­ripe olives, pro­cess­ing flaws, and/or improper oil stor­age.

See more: UC Davis Report

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