Olive oil grades have long been full of loopholes that importers have maliciously utilized to sell low quality olive oil to unsuspecting consumers. Fortunately, the USDA definition of olive oil grades, which was first adopted in 1948, was changed on Oct. 24, 2010. The change is a historic achievement for the olive oil industry, retailers and consumers.
The California Olive Oil Council filed a petition to change the definition of olive oil grades in 2005. The aim of the petition was to set standards in place for olive oil in the United States. This especially applied to extra virgin olive oil.
The standards set in place in 1948 allowed some unscrupulous importers to flood the United States market with mislabeled types of olive oil that contained misleading claims.
The new USDA definition of olive oil grades will:
• Give the United States government legal definitions to rely on in the case that it needs to take action against an importer that is mislabeling olive oil.
• Provide retail purchasers with a common language of clearly defined United States grades of olive oil.
• Give notice to unscrupulous importers that they will no longer be able to ship mislabeled low grades of olive oil or other oils to the United States. For example, importers that label olive oil pomace as "virgin" olive oil will be subject to legal action.
• Raise public awareness of the differences between extra virgin olive oil and other grades of olive oil. Many consumers in the United States are unaware that there are quality and nutritional differences between extra virgin olive oil and other types of olive oil.
• Inform the consumer by outlining taste (organoleptic) and chemical testing requirements for all grades of olive oil.
• Become a solid foundation on which an infrastructure of grading and testing can be built.