Olive Oil is one of the most frequently economically adulterated food products. Therefore, it is no surprise that there are concerns that a fresh wave of adulteration is on the way. To help alleviate these concerns, the European Union (EU), Italy and United States olive oil industry and their laboratories have developed methods to test for, and combat this fraud.

Spain, one of the world leading producers of olives for olive oil, has reported a severe drought that resulted in a loss of 600,000 tonnes of olives.1 Unfortunately Spain produces about 40% of the world’s olive oil production and this loss will reduce production by some 0.4 million metric tonnes. This loss of crop will force up the already high price of olive oil. With price increases, the opportunity and desire arises to sell low cost materials, low cost olive oil or blends of both, as high quality extra virgin olive oil, or even as 100% pure olive oil.2

Another factor in this fraudulent game, is trying to pass off one country’s olive oil for another country’s product, which may have a better reputation and will provide more revenue.3 Unfortunately, olive oil is shipped from one country to another and then bottled and sold as that country’s product. With supply down and demand up 60% in the last 20 years4, there are fraudsters looking to cash in on the market. There are currently 47 olive producing countries and olive oil is consumed in 110 countries. Consumer demand for olive oil is highest in Italy, Spain, Greece and the United States. The olive oil industry, the EU, and private laboratories have been developing programmes to combat this fraud.


Over the last few years, the EU parliament and council have issued new legislation in order to combat olive oil fraud, in addition to the prior standard EEC 2568/91, which established the characteristics of olive oil, olive residue oil and the relevant method of analysis.5

These parameters were amended on 26 March 2013 by EU 299/20136, which established quality parameters such as sensory, free fatty acids, peroxide value, wax, K-values and alkyl ester. EU 299/2013 also established identity/purity parameters 2-Glycerinmonopalmitat, Stigmastadiens, Triglycerides with ECN42, Fatty acid composition, sterol content and content of Uvaol and Erythrodiol as well as additional parameters such as 1, 2 Diacylglycerides and Pyropheophitines.

EU regulation 1308/20137 establishes the commercial definitions of olive oils, such as extra virgin, virgin, ordinary, lampant, olive oil (refined and virgin) and kernel oil. This regulation also defines requirements, characteristics, production and free fatty acid content. These new regulations coupled with others have changed the way the determination of quality and purity of olive oil is performed.


Italy is the second largest producer of olive oil. In 2013, the government passed a registration/tracking requirement that applied to the mills8, bulk oil dealers, packers and processors of the olives. The single registration system now extends throughout the entire production process. The olive producers are now included with refineries, processors, traders and other contractors who have been added to the mandated reporters. The purpose of this is to increase transparency of the Italian olive oil business and tracking of the different quality levels of olive oil, such as extra virgin, pure, pomace and so on.


Even in the comparatively small American (USA) olive oil industry, the Olive Oil Commission of California had the State of California Department of Food and Agriculture pass legislation that becomes effective September 26. As part of the drive to grow the olive oil business this legislation has strict labelling, testing registration and tracking requirements.9 These standards are stricter than those in the EU. While these standards only apply to the Californian industry, it hopes to apply these standards to all olive oil imported into the USA.

Testing of Olive Oil

The new regulations to reduce the incidence of olive oil economic fraud have changed the landscape for the testing requirements. The EU regulations require trained sensory panellists, under ISO 17025, to perform the sensory evaluation. Testing each batch at each point of the processing and distribution chain for K values (K232, K270), free fatty acids, peroxide value, 1,2 Diglycerides, Triglycerides, Pyropheophytines, Waxes, Alkylesters, fatty acid composition and other required tests is not uncommon, to assure compliance with the regulations and confirm that no economic adulteration has taken place. SGS Germany, in conjunction with SGS Spain, has established the necessary programmes in order to provide this service to the industry.

With the new regulations, standards and the advances in testing, the expectation is to reduce the level of olive oil fraud and allow the public to purchase olive oil having the confidence that the product in the container is really as described on the label.

For more information, please visit SGS Food Safety website or contact:

Jim Cook
Food Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager
SGS North America, Inc.
t: +1 973 461 1493

1 Olive oil prices to soar after Spanish drought devastates crop
2 Kangadis Case Moves Forward Despite Bankruptcy
3 Police Say Smuggled Moroccan Olive Oil Found in ‘Toxic Goods’ Containers
4 Drought, blight threaten to press up olive oil price
5 EU Commission Regulation (EEC) No 2568 /91 on the characteristics of olive oil and olive-residue oil and on the relevant methods of analysis (PDF 5 MB)
6 EU Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 299/2013 amending Regulation (EEC) No 2568/91 on the characteristics of olive oil and olive-residue oil and on the relevant methods of analysis (PDF 2 MB)
7 Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013, establishing a common organisation of the markets in agricultural products and repealing Council Regulations (EEC) No 922/72, (EEC) No 234/79, (EC) No 1037/2001 and (EC) No 1234/2007 (PDF 3 MB)
8 Italian Farmers’ Organization Backs Olive Oil Quality Register
9 State of California - Proposed Grade and Labelling Standards for Olive Oil, Refined-Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil