First standards set for olive oil

First standards set for olive oil

olivestandar_337A.P. - When food importer Luciano Sclafani spied a 3-liter tin of extra-virgin olive oil a couple of years ago selling for $9.99, he could tell without tasting a drop that it wasn’t legitimate. Tests proved him right. The oil, which should have sold for $25 or $30, was a cheap knockoff, 90 percent soybean oil and 10 percent pomace, the oil that’s collected from the ground flesh and pits after pressing. “Olive oil is the closest thing to my heart that I sell,” said Sclafani, president of his family’s 97-year-old food-importing-and-distribution business in Norwalk, Conn. His revelation helped lead to Friday’s announcement by Connecticut consumer-protection officials that Connecticut is the first in the nation to set quality standards for olive oil. Many nations have standards for olive oil, and its virgin and extra-virgin varieties. Extra-virgin olive oil is derived from the first pressing of the olives and has a stronger taste; it is popular to eat with salads or on bread. But U.S. standards haven’t been updated since the late 1940s. Connecticut officials said lax standards are also a safety issue: People allergic to soy, peanuts or other foods should know their virgin olive oil is pure. “It could be a fatal event,” said Jerry Farrell Jr., Connecticut’s consumer-protection commissioner. Farrell’s office received some reports of people in Connecticut experiencing adverse reactions from adulterated olive oil. There have been no reported deaths. Nationwide, an estimated 12 million people, including 3 million children, have food allergies. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network in Fairfax, Va., reports that 90 percent of all food allergies involve eggs, milk, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts. Connecticut’s regulations, which took effect Nov. 5, adopt a “standard of identity” for olive oil sold in the state that mirrors the standards developed by International Olive Oil Council. The regulations define virgin olive oil as “those oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means … which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decanting, centrifuging and filtration.” No additives are permitted in virgin olive oils sold in Connecticut. A new law in California, similar to Connecticut’s regulations, takes effect in January. Connecticut’s regulations also give the state’s consumer-protection department the power to levy fines and pull misleading products from store shelves. Sclafani, who buys his olive oil from Sicily, said consumers should look for a known brand when they’re making a purchase. Often, he said, the frauds come in a bottle or tin with a conjured-up Italian name on the label. He said people should also think twice if the price seems too cheap: “If it’s too good to be true, it’s not true. Let the buyer beware.”

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Date: Tuesday 25, 2008

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