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Quality Monitoring Program Expands to Olive Oil

The Quality Monitoring Program will verify the quality and purity of extra virgin and organic extra virgin olive oil.  The program will help consumers know that the products they are buying will meet their expectations.  Photo courtesy of Pompeian, Inc.

The Quality Monitoring Program will verify the quality and purity of extra virgin and organic extra virgin olive oil. The program will help consumers know that the products they are buying will meet their expectations. Photo courtesy of Pompeian, Inc.

There have been a lot of questions over the last few years about the quality and purity of olive oil.  USDA has expanded our Quality Monitoring Program to include extra virgin and organic extra virgin olive oil.  This program already evaluates a variety of commodities including canned, frozen and certain fresh fruits and vegetables.

With many Americans looking for alternatives and additions at meal time, the popularity of olive oil has been on the rise.  Consumers looking for the qualities and signature flavor of olive oil want to know that the products they buy will meet their expectations.

As part of the Quality Monitoring Program for olive oil, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) lab verifies olive oil quality and purity using criteria based on the U.S. grade standards for olive oil and international criteria.  Our assessment also includes unannounced plant visits to review production processes, quality assurance measures, and recordkeeping systems.

Pompeian, Inc.—headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland—is the first manufacturer to participate in USDA’s Quality Monitoring Program for olive oil.  Their operation qualified by meeting our rigorous review and evaluation process and their product met chemical testing and flavor analysis requirements.  AMS will conduct ongoing, unannounced plant visits to verify that Pompeian continues to meet the Quality Monitoring Program for olive oil requirements.

AMS will apply these same measures for all firms who wish to participate in Quality Monitoring Program for olive oil.  Visit our website to learn more about the Quality Monitoring Program.

9 Responses to “Quality Monitoring Program Expands to Olive Oil”

  1. Allen says:

    Don’t forget our great California olive oils. We have our own California Olive Oil Council which certifies which state-grown extra virgin olive oil meets the grade. Not everybody makes the cut. Go to their website and they have a list of the oils that qualified and bear the certification seal.

  2. ERSILIA MORENO says:

    US grade standards and international criteria ? Where are you publishing exactly what these are ? How does the USDA intend to inspect the olive oil plants overseas when it doesn’;t have enough inspectors to keep up with the food supply coming from the US ? Is the USDA now going to stop import shipments and test what is coming in BEFORE it gets bottled with a fancy name in the US ?

  3. H F Graves says:

    Australia just implemented standards that are much tougher than the world olive oil association much to the dislike of these huge companies. The Aussies found through their testing program that Australia (and the USA) was a dumping ground for inferior olive oil saying that much was “lamp oil grade”. A great article in Australian new around the last week of February.

  4. Ben [USDA Moderator] says:

    Thank you for your comment, Allen. You’re right—the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) has a certification program to certify that state-grown extra virgin olive oil meets their State requirements. To ensure consistency in the marketplace, olive oil meeting the COOC requirements would also meet the requirements of the newly revised U.S. Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive-pomace.

    Originally, COOC petitioned USDA to revise the U.S. olive oil grade standards to make them consistent with the International Olive Council (IOC) standards for olive oils and olive-pomace oils and with the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). An intergovernmental organization created by the United Nations and headquartered in Madrid, Spain, IOC influences the marketing of over 95 percent of the world’s olive oil production. The CAC is also a United Nations organization through which member countries, including the United States, formulate and harmonize international food standards. The COOC wanted a domestic olive oil standard that included updated terms consistent with objective criteria for determining quality and purity among the grades of olive oil and olive-pomace oil commonly accepted in the United States and abroad.

  5. Ben [USDA Moderator] says:

    Thanks for your questions, Ersilla. The new US grade standards for olive oil can be found at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3011889. They were revised in October, 2010.

    The International Olive Council (IOC) standards for olive oils and olive-pomace oils can be found at: http://www.internationaloliveoil.org/estaticos/view/222-standards. They were revised in 2009.

    The Codex Alimentarius Commission requirements for olive oil can be found at: http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/004/Y2774E/y2774e04.htm. They were also recently revised.

    Currently, the Quality Monitoring Program (QMP) is only implemented domestically. QMP is a voluntary program that assures the quality and value of olive oil for sale in the U.S. The program would not affect imports into the U.S. or apply to domestic producers of olive oil unless they choose to participate in the program.

  6. Trean says:

    I am confused….I thought the FDA, not the USDA, was responsible for fats and oils quality. Please advise. Thanks.

  7. Frank Marion says:

    Is there a list of Quality Monitored items?

  8. sylvia kronstadt says:

    Since we’ve been reading for years now that MOST of the olive oil for sale in this country has been diluted, adulterated, processed in a way that destroys its nutritional benefits or is not olive oil at all, I’m glad the USDA is getting involved. It’s hard to imagine how the agency can do a decent job, though, since it claims to have too few inspectors to handle its existing caseload. One note about Pompeiian: This firm has proven itself to be grossly deceptive in the past. We bought a case of the company’s “extra virgin olive oil” a couple of years ago. Inside, we found bottles of “Olive Extra.” When I examined the label closely, it said “contains up to 40 percent olive oil.” Up to? That could be zero or 10 percent or 39 percent, but in any case it was not primarily an olive oil product. The fine print on the back of the bottle revealed that the major ingredient was canola oil. I corresponded with their PR and legal people for weeks. When I asked what percent of olive oil was actually in there, this is their word-for-word response: “The answer is a trade secret, buried deep within our vaults.” WHAT??? I retorted that the blend should be called “CanExtra,” not “OliveExtra.” The company actually did change the name for awhile. I guess sales weren’t too hot for this overpriced canola oil, so the OliveExtra is back. This time, the firm reveals on the front that it is a blend, but their web site and labeling says nothing about the ratio of olive to canola. I think Pompeiian is a fundamentally deceptive company, and I question whether USDA will have the time and the will to police it properly.

  9. Dan Wylie-Sears says:

    Press coverage has led consumers to believe that the normal method by which most of the world’s “olive oil” is produced is that a tanker ship sets out from port with a load of some flavorless oil — colza, castor, mineral, whatever — and the next time it makes landfall it unloads an equal volume of “olive oil”, to which the producer then adds flavoring, coloring, and whatever chemicals will satisfy common assays (much as melamine provided the “protein” content of the heavily-publicized Chinese infant formula).

    These standards are obviously of value to sellers for their ability to allay consumer fears. But the standards seem designed to distinguish good olive oil from olive oil that is of lower quality but nonetheless genuine. Does the monitoring include PCR and other methods designed to distinguish 100% olive oil from mixtures that include other oils?

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