Olive Oil Quality Information

The International Olive Council standards are used throughout the world to define and authenticate the various grades of olive oil. Every year, the IOC certifies or re-certifies laboratories around the globe that have proven to consistently perform chemical analysis or sensory analysis of olive oils. The lists are updated around November each year and anyone who wants to test oils can contact these labs to get the most current IOC analysis performed.

Ensuring authenticity and quality of olive oil is crucial, especially since consumers choose olive oil because of its health benefits. All authentic olive oils are a healthy choice over other cooking fats due to the fact they are primarily comprised of the good monounsaturated fat, especially oleic acid. This is true of extra virgin olive oil, olive oil and light-tasting olive oil. Additionally, both extra virgin and virgin olive oils offer extra health benefits from the antioxidants and polyphenols naturally found in these unprocessed oils.

Throughout history, there are documented instances of fraud related to olive oil and the topic has been the subject of many a news headline in recent years in North America. To cut through all the hype and confusion, it is first and foremost important to understand that questions of authenticity – i.e. is the oil made from olives? – are different from questions about the quality level – i.e. what grade is it, virgin or extra virgin? Solely from a quality perspective, the range within extra virgin olive oil is as diverse as the range in wines. As with wine, quality is somewhat a matter of personal taste preference and is also typically reflected in the price point of the product.

Authenticity, however, is clearly defined and very easy for a properly-equipped lab to test for. Since 1989, the NAOOA has participated in the IOC’s Quality Monitoring Program, collecting hundreds of samples per year from stores throughout North America. These samples are tested by IOC-certified labs around the globe for authenticity and chemical compliance with the grade level. Over the years, our tests have confirmed cases of adulteration – most commonly, another vegetable oil like canola or soybean oil and sometimes a lower-grade olive oil such as olive-pomace oil. However, these instances have consistently been limited to a few companies or to brands that have very low distribution and almost no market share. NAOOA has identified the repeat offenders and sent copies of the test results to the FDA, state health departments and other regulators.

It has been difficult to force prosecution in these cases because of the lack of a mandatory U.S. standard, but for the first time in decades, significant progress has been seen. Here's an overview of the standards history in the U.S.

Additionally, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency implemented a targeted testing program in the last five years that has been successful in curbing the adulteration identified in the Canadian market.

Ultimately, based on more than 20 years of testing, we can assure consumers that over 98% of what is available in North American supermarkets today is authentic olive oil. All NAOOA members agree to meet the IOC specifications and the association will continue to work diligently to support solutions for standardization and enforcement in North America.