The Eleni guide to fraud, deceit, lies and scandal in the olive oil industry
Just because a bottle of olive oil is labeled "extra virgin" olive oil, there is no guarantee that it even contains olive oil. This deception is occurring on your market shelves right this minute. Not all olive oils are created equal and only real extra virgin olive oil provides all the healthy benefits attributed to olive oil.
The purpose of this page is two-fold. First, to keep consumers and store buyers aware of those brands of olive oil which have been known to be adulterated* and those distributors which are known to sell adulterated olive oil. And secondly, to help you, as a consumer, know how to be sure that you don’t get cheated when picking an olive oil for your own use.
* Adulterated - olive oil which is not purely olive oil but is mixed illegally with other vegetable, seed or nut oils, or with cheaper grades of olive oil, to increase profits and volume..
Did you know…
…that recorded cases of adulterated olive oil go back to the 1800’s.
…that in 1995 the U.S. FDA found only 4% of olive oil examined to contain purely olive oil.
…that adulterated olive oil killed 402 people in Spain in 1981.
…that a recent study in Italy found only 40% of olive oil brands were actually "pure" olive oil.
…that over 20% of the olive oil sold in Canada has been proven to be "fake".
…that 40% of all the olive oil sold in Britain may be adulterated.
…that more olive oil is "produced" in California than there are olives available.
One of the earliest recorded cases of olive oil fraud took place in the late part of the nineteenth century. In 1890 the Orthodox Church of Russia was forbidden from importing any further olive oil from Italy because it was being diluted with cottonseed oil. The olive oil was being used for lighting wicks in Orthodox churches throughout Russia and not for food purposes. However, the olive oil was not the quality olive oil that the church had contracted for. Cottonseed oil was cheaper and the Italians stood to have a greater economic gain by "cheating" the church.
In 1995, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing olive oils for purity, conducted a study. Only 4 per cent of the 73 brands of olive oils tested proved to be pure olive oil. Most products were adulterated with vegetable oils, which have been shown to cause, not prevent heart disease. Oils such as canola, corn, cottonseed and soy oils were used with as little as only 10% olive oil in some products.
Over 20,000 people fell ill and 402 people died from the effects of the toxic oil syndrome that struck Spain in 1981. The disease was first reported in Madrid on May 1, 1981, killing an eight year old boy, and in 13 north western provinces by the end of June. For several years it was thought that the case involved some kind of an infection carried in the olive oil. Continued investigation found that the olive oil had been adulterated with rapeseed (canola) oil. The problem, besides the dishonesty in mixing oils, was that the rapeseed oil, purchased from France, was an industrial grade of oil mixed with red aniline dyes for use on machinery. The red dye was removed and the rapeseed oil added to the olive oil. It was not meant for human consumption. The result was mass food poisoning.
A recent study in Italy found that only 40% of the olive oil brands labeled as "extra virgin" actually met those standards. Italy produces 400,000 tons of olive oil for consumption each year but over 750,000 tons are sold. Where does this mysterious 350,000 tons of "extra" olive oil come from? The difference is made up with highly-refined nut and seed oils.
Since 1997 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has been checking out olive oils to see if they are what they are advertised and labeled to be. They have analyzed over 100 extra virgin olive oils and have found that 20 per cent are fake. Laboratory tests confirm that the olive oil had been adulterated with sunflower oil, canola oil, or refined olive oil (pomace).
The BBC reported in 1994 that around 40% of olive oil on British supermarket shelves is adulterated with other less healthy and cheaper vegetable oils.
In one olive oil fraud case in San Diego, CA. it was found that the guilty parties selling an "organic, extra virgin olive oil from California" had been picking and pressing some olives they were gathering from a local golf course. The guilty even fooled the some of the large "natural" food chains in California like Whole Foods Markets and Wild Oats Markets.
Below is a list of known adulterated brands and dishonest distributors with links to information about their cases.
Adulterated brands of extra virgin olive oil
with country of origin
Andy’s Pure Olive Oil (Italy)
Castel Tiziano (Italy)
Petrou Bros. Olive Oil (California)
Ricetta Antica (Italy)
San Paolo (Italy)
Terra Mia (Italy)
Distributors caught selling adulterated olive oil
AMT Fine Foods
Bella International Food Brokers
Cher-Mor Foods International
Deluca Brothers International
Gestion Trorico Inc.
Les Ailments MIA Food Distributing
Mario Sardo Sales, Inc.
Petrou Foods, Inc.
Rubino USA Inc.
Siena Foods Ltd.
1994, owner of now-defunct Rubino USA Inc. sentenced to prison and fined for selling adulterated extra virgin olive oil. Some samples showed that the olive oil was mixed with between 42 and 68 percent canola oil or with refined olive oil (pomace or "pure" olive oil) Brands include Rubino and Regala olive oils. Source: FDA Consumer, Dec 1994.
1997, state regulators at the California Department of Health Services accused Petrou Foods, Inc., San Diego, of false advertising and misbranding products as organic. It is doubtful that the olive oil was even "extra virgin" as the olives were from trees found on a local golf course of a species not recommended as a good oil producer. Owners were fined $10,000. Source: Natural Foods Merchandiser, Dec 1997.
1998, Investigators have gathered evidence indicating that the biggest olive oil brands in Italy, Bertolli, Sasso, and Cirio, (all distributed by Nestle's International) have for years been systematically diluting their extra virgin olive oil with cheap, highly refined hazelnut oil imported from Turkey. Despite the fact that details of this scandal have been published in Merum, a Swiss-German magazine, and in Italian journals such as Agra Trade, and the newspaper Gazzetta del Mezzogiomo, this information has been successfully suppressed in the United States. International arrest warrants have been issued and seized documents indicate that at least 10,000 tons of hazelnut oil are involved. As much as 20% refined hazelnut oil can be added to olive oil and still be undetectable to the consumer. Source: The Olive Oil Scandal, Beyond Health Magazine, by Russell Francis (Raymond Francis is an M.I.T.-trained scientist and an internationally recognized leader in the emerging field of optimal health maintenance. He spent several months researching the scandal in the olive oil industry and studying olive oil chemistry and production methods. )
1996, The Albanian Ministry of Food and Agriculture inspectors confiscate and prosecute 3.5 tons of adulterated olive oil. Testing indicates that it contains 10% expired (rancid) olive oil and 90% sunflower oil. It was to be sold in Albania and Serbia. Source: Albanian Telegraphic Agency
1997-2000, Joe Di Lecce, a food specialist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, says "we found oils that consisted mainly of vegetable oils other than olive oil,’ during inspections. "Some had sunflower oil, some had canola, some had pomace oil." Di Lecce is the CFIA’s olive specialist. Since 1997 he has been checking out olive oils to see if they are what they’re advertised to be. Di Lecce has looked at 100 oils, and found that 20 per cent are fake. According to Di Lecce, once lab tests uncover the adulterated oils, the CFIA files charges against the companies linked to the products. The CFIA has successfully prosecuted 13 wholesale and distribution companies which sell olive oil to retailers across the country. Adulterated olive oils found have included Olivio, Terra Mia, Ricetta Antica, San Paolo, Andy’s Pure Olive Oil, and Italico. Distributors caught include Cher-Mor Foods International, AMT Fine Foods, Siena Foods Ltd., Lonath International, Bella International Food Brokers, Les Aliments MIA Food Distributing, D & G Foods, Deluca Brothers International, Kalamata Foods, and Maria Sardo Sales Inc.. Source: Canadian Food Inspection Agency
1995, a study was conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing olive oils for purity. Only 4 per cent of the 73 brands of olive oils tested proved to be pure olive oil. Most products were adulterated with vegetable oils such as canola, corn, cottonseed, and soy oils. Some products contained as little as 10% olive oil. Although it has not been verified as to which companies were not using pure olive oil, another source listed Cornelia (Altapac Trading), Ligaro (Itaical Trading), and Primi (Vernon Foods) brand oils as being three of the offenders. Source: Food and Drug Administration and Dr. Michael Gazsi, N.D.
2000, On April 4, 2000, in Montreal, Gestion Trorico Inc., was sentenced to pay a $4000 fine after pleading guilty to two counts under the Food and Drugs Act. A sample taken by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in August 1997 revealed that the company had imported and sold adulterated product. The Castel Tiziano extra virgin olive oil contained mostly vegetable oil other than olive oil. Source: Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Prosecution Bulletin.
July 2001, The Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that Spanish officials knew for three months that a food grade olive pomace oil contained potentially harmful levels of a carcinogen before they issued a health alert. The Spanish government halted shipments on July 3, 2001 of olive pomace oil and warned of its health risks after tests showed it contained unacceptable levels of benzopyrene, a hydrocarbon believed to be a long-term cause of cancer. The Spanish olive pomace oil which was shipped to the Czech Republic was found by the Czech food and agriculture inspection authority to contain harmful levels of the chemical as early as February 2001. Czech authorities confiscated large quantities of it and notified Spanish authorities. Spain did not issue its alert until July 2001 when they halted shipments of the olive pomace oil. One spokesman for the Spanish olive oil industry blasted the governments decision, "Its an overreaction and our exporters are reporting cancellations of orders for perfectly good olive oil." Source: El Pais (newspaper of Spain), July 14, 2001
What consumers need to know and look for in an olive oil to keep from being cheated
1. Only first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil has health benefits.
When you purchase "pure", "pomace", or "lite" olive oil you are getting no health benefits from your olive oil. Of course, if your olive oil is adulterated, then you are getting no benefits anyway. To quote Stan Bacler, an "olive oil detective" for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, "if the price you're paying for extra virgin olive oil seems too good to be true, it likely is."
2. Never purchase olive oil sold in plastic bottles.
Olive oil reacts with the plastic, contaminating your olive oil with unhealthy PVC's. Plastic bottles are not provided for your health or safety, only to increase corporate profits. Purchase only glass bottles. Large quantities of olive oil should be sold in dark glass bottles or in food grade cans to avoid oxidation of the olive oil by sunlight.
3. Purchase olive oil pressed from handpicked olives only.
Olives should be handpicked and pressed immediately. Large estates reduce the cost of picking by using mechanical pickers. The olives fall to the ground getting bruised in the process. This leads to fermentation and spoiling of the olive. Mechanical picking also drops olives that are not yet ready for oil production, and when they are gathered from the ground many of the older over ripened olives that have naturally fallen are added to the mix. Often mechanically picked olives lie on the ground for a day or two in the hot sun before being gathered and pressed. All of these factors reduce the quality and health benefits of the olive oil. When olives are handpicked the traditional way, the olives are not bruised and only the ones ready for pressing are taken to the press.
4. Never purchase factory produced or estate bottled olive oils.
That means "stay away from the big corporate brands" of olive oil that you see in every market. Your olive oil should be from small family farms not from factories. The reason lies in the way the olive is pressed. The traditional olive press is the large round grinding stone. This has been improved upon by a hydraulic press with fine pressure controls without any sacrifice in olive oil quality. The main problem in large factories is that to produce great quantities of olive oil in the shortest time possible they have gone to mechanical extraction machines using a continuous centrifuge system. Hot water is continually sprayed into the centrifuge to help separate out the oil. Many of the health benefits of olive oil result from the high quantities of antioxidants found in olive oil. These antioxidants are soluble in water and are washed away in this hot water process. Therefore factory produced olive oil does not contain all the nutrients and health benefits and it has a drastically shorter shelf life of only a few months.
Eleni extra virgin Greek olive oil is first cold-pressed from handpicked koroneiki olives grown on small family farms around Kalamata, Greece. The olives are pressed in the traditional way on mats. Instead of a large stone, we use a simple hydraulic press. (not the centrifugal extraction process using water) The olive oil is then bottled in glass or oil grade tins.
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