The label says California extra virgin olive oil. But how can you be sure it’s the real thing: high-quality, California-grown olive oil without off-flavors or odors, or some other type of oil secretly slipped into the mix.
Now you can be more certain, thanks to new state standards which represent a big victory for consumers across the nation.
California has become the first state in the nation to adopt labeling and testing standards to ensure that California-made extra virgin olive is the real deal – and not an adulterated knockoff or flawed, rancid oil.
“We believe the time has come to designate a ‘California-grown’ olive oil, and these standards are an excellent way to do it,” Karen Ross, the secretary of California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, said in a statement. “California agriculture has an enviable reputation for high-quality products sought by consumers here and around the world.”
The CDFA adopted the standards on Sept. 18. They took effect Sept. 26. They’re stricter than other international standards governing olive oil.
The standards cover an estimated 100 growers and a dozen millers here, including California Olive Ranch. These companies make at least 5,000 gallons a year of California-grown olive oil.
The standards, which apply to this fall’s olive harvest:
- Require large California olive oil companies to test every batch of extra virgin olive oil to determine if it’s rancid, adulterated or flawed.
- Eliminate the use of marketing terms on labels like “light” and “pure,” which are refined oils typically produced using heat and chemicals. Both must be labeled as refined olive oils. (True extra virgin, by contrast, essentially is freshly pressed fruit juice.)
- Require California olive oil producers to declare if they have adulterated any of their oil.
“The standards will be the first in the world to require testing of every lot of oil produced,” the CDFA said in its statement, adding: “Only extra-virgin olive oil is produced here, and the standards will establish a more stringent limit for free fatty acids, a negative attribute that signals a breakdown of olive oil quality due to exposure to heat, light and oxygen.”
Importers and distributors of bulk and bottled olive oil produced outside of California as well as smaller in-state millers are exempt from the standards.
“California producers have set the bar high, which is good news for consumers,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of the University of California, Davis Olive Center, whose research supported the standards initially proposed in July by the Olive Oil Commission of California, a group of local growers and millers who called for new testing and labeling requirements.
Nearly all of the 293,000 metric tons of olive oil consumed in the United last year came from European countries, notably Spain and Italy. But in recent years California olive oil companies have been accounting for a larger share, helping expand U.S. production to 10,000 metric tons last year. That’s up 10 times from 2007.
The new standards should hasten that trend.