beware of fake olive oil

by erin thursby
The next time you’re looking at olive oil in the grocery store don’t reach for the cheapest one right away.
The International Olive Oil Council has been bothering the FDA about setting standards for olive oil since at least 1988, when the FDA met with reps from a number of different oil councils from around the world. U.S. standards, according to the Associated Press, haven’t been updated since 1940. Because of this, we’re the primary target for olive oil fraud.
Most other countries have adopted these standards, so that when you reach for extra virgin olive oil in Europe, you know what you’re getting- mostly. They’re so serious about it that Italy has twenty specially-trained cops who can taste the difference between the real and fake stuff.
Still, it’s a problem even where there are strict standards and regulations, as in Italy.
Some companies looking to sell the pricey extra virgin stuff will put in a little cheap olive oil, mix it with vegetable oil or soy oil and then use coloring to give it the right yellow and greenish tint. For people with allergies it can be devastating, because there’s nothing on the label to indicate what kind of oil was used. Peanut oil or Turkish hazelnut oil is sometimes used in small quantities as part of the mix and a few people have actually gotten ill because of this.
In Connecticut they just passed a state law regarding the standards because the FDA has been so slow in setting up and enforcing a national standard. Connecticut has adopted the IOOC’s standards. Connecticut is the first state in the U.S. to set such a standard.
Connecticut’s Office for Consumer Protection received complaints from people with allergies that had become ill because of it. Because of the law, no additives are allowed in any olive oils sold in Connecticut. The penalty for breaking the law is fines and instantly pulling stock from store shelves. New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island are also interested in putting such a law on their books.
California, which has lead the way in homegrown olive oil standards because of the California Olive Oil Council, is set to have a similar law on their books in January. The California Olive Oil Council quietly set the standard for olive oil produced in California. Many U.S. growers are in California and if you see the seal on their product, you’ll know you’re getting quality, real extra virgin olive oil.
Here in Jacksonville, Olives and Oils co-owner Kerri Rogers helps see to it that they get the real thing on their shelves. Not only that, but they look for the tastiest stuff from different regions.
Says Rogers of their buying process: “USDA Organic certified is what we look for mostly…but each country has its own certification, so we look for that if it’s imported. We also look for single origin farms, so we know for sure where the olives come from, and we look for labels that have won awards from olive oil contests and tastings.”
Their olive oils come from all over the world. U.S., Spain and Australia are some of the countries of origin. It helps to buy from a shop such as Olives and Oils, Whole Foods or Native Sun that’s already vetted its olive oil supply, but you can also research the oil yourself or stick to a known brand.
Olives and Oils can be found near Park and King, on King Street catty-corner from the pharmacy and then a few stores down without crossing Park. 1506 King Street, 619- 6187

what to look for:
–Olive oil that’s half the price of others of similar quality and quantity.
–Brands you’ve never heard of.
–Color won’t tell you anything. It can be faked. Also, different olives from different regions have a diverse character and color, from very green to golden with a hint of green.
–Look for a label certified by the California Olive Oil Council, IOOC, a USDA organic label or the country of origin equivalent.