US Is A Dumping Ground For Crappy, Dangerous Olive Oil

Demand for extra virgin olive oil is up — but we apparently don’t have strict standards that prevent companies from adulterating “extra virgin” olive oil with cheaper stuff such canola, safflower or peanut oils, says the LA Times. New standards from the US Department of Agriculture aim to change that this fall, however.

But a lack of strict standards means the U.S. is awash in low-quality, adulterated and even dangerous oils that have made some consumers ill, according to experts. The new rules are voluntary — not mandatory — so the prospect of more slick shenanigans continues.

Connecticut investigators tested dozens of bottles of olive oil from store shelves a few years ago after local producers and consumers complained that there was something fishy — or perhaps nutty — going on. They were right.

“People were getting sick and thinking, ‘It must be the poultry that I fried up in the olive oil last night,’ or that it was a type of bread that had been exposed to nuts in the bakery,” said Jerry Farrell Jr., commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. Early this year, his team returned to the market aisles after hearing rumbles of more sly shortcuts.

“It took a while for people to identify that the oil itself is the thing that was making them sick,” Farrell said.

A spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration, told the Times that agency “does not regularly test olive oils for adulteration, and that it relies on tips about problems from the public, trade groups and others.”

So… we suppose you should tell the FDA if you encounter any fishy olive oil?

Connecticut Puts The Squeeze On Olive Oil Fraud [NPR]
U.S. to crack down on smearing of olive oil’s reputation [LA Times]

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  1. StutiCebriones says:

    I thought olive oil’s smoke point was too low for frying.

    If that’s true, it isn’t the oil making people sick; it’s the people misusing the oil.

    • Cameraman says:

      It’s too low for deep frying, but it’s just dandy for stir-frying.

      • denros says:

        I’d argue stir frying uses higher heat than deep-frying. I stir fry with peanut oil as hot as possible, just before it starts to smoke. Best way to get a good maillard reaction going with a palatable texture inside.

        I’ve had some success pan-frying with olive oil below its smoke point. It’s all in the technique.

      • cerbie_the_orphan says:

        I think you mean saute. Stir-frying need exceptionally high heat oil.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      A lot of people don’t know how to use olive oil; different grades are good for different purposes. Extra Virgin, for example, shouldn’t be heated.

      • nbs2 says:

        That’s why people end up with shelves full of oil. Rapeseed, olive, extra virgin, grapeseed, truffle – each has a specific use in my kitchen.

      • nbs2 says:

        That’s why people end up with shelves full of oil. Rapeseed, olive, extra virgin, grapeseed, truffle – each has a specific use in my kitchen.

        • cerbie_the_orphan says:

          I just get a big can of EVOO, and use it for everything low heat that it doesn’t ruin the taste of. Just because the extra flavor, compared to a ‘cooking’ olive oil, cooks away doesn’t mean you shouldn’t heat it.

      • dumblonde says:

        You can heat it. My husband uses it to make olive oil and garlic sauce. But you just can’t heat it until it’s hot for frying, just shimmering.

    • GearheadGeek says:

      Olive oil is fine for sauteing, which most people don’t differentiate from frying.

    • dorianh49 says:

      We use grapeseed oil for fying stuff. It’s pretty good. I also have some virgin coconut oil that I’ve been trying to figure out how to use. Don’t use it to make omelettes. It makes the eggs a little rubbery.

      • Gabe&Kamster says:

        Coconut oil is awesome. Try melting 1 part coconut oil with 1 part chocolate chips. Pour into greased mini muffin tins, then freeze until the chocolates set. You’ll have to keep them in the fridge even after that, as coconut oil is liquid around mid-70s Fahrenheit. YUMMY.

        I also made zucchini bread last week and replaced half the oil with unsweetened applesauce and half with coconut oil. Everyone thought it tasted really good and had no clue it was healthier than the usual version.

    • quirkyrachel says:

      Good point. I’m willing to bet that many people don’t know that different oils have different uses based on their smoke points. I only use olive oil for salads and other non-cooking adventures.

    • Big Mama Pain says:

      You’re right about the smoke point, but it wouldn’t make someone sick. In fact, if someone WAS trying to fry something in olive oil, it would just burn and make it inedible.

      • cerbie_the_orphan says:

        Not so. Many “light” (more highly processed, basically) olive oils, and some low-acid varieties, have high enough smoke points to do deep fat frying with.

        Also, there are types of dishes where you can use lower temp olive oil for deep fat frying, or pan-frying (fried leftover pasta, and making crispy polenta cakes, off the top of my head).

        For high-temp frying, of course, peanut oil is a greasy god.

    • jayde_drag0n says:

      RTFA people are buying olive oil and instead inside the bottle is PEANUT OIL.. this is the consumers fault how?

      • StutiCebriones says:

        Actually, the article doesn’t say that. It says the olive oil may be adulterated with another kind of oil. Not “switched with.”

        • cerbie_the_orphan says:

          If you have a peanut allergy, or are sensitive to chemicals commonly used in extracting oil (which should not be happening with Extra Virgin Olive Oil), even adding a fraction of a percent is going to be pretty bad.

    • mattarse says:

      Frying doesn’t necessarily mean deep frying – which Olive Oil is about useless for, but also included sautéing which Olive Oil is suitable for.

    • Wayward says:

      Actually, Olive Oil is perfectly fine for deep frying and all types of cooking. I grow olives and make olive oil on a small homestead farm, and know a lot about oils in general.

      That’s a really common misconception, and I think unfairly propagated. Olive oil behaves just like any other oil when heated, and it’s smoke point is in fact higher than many other household oils. Sure, like other oils some of the organic compounds will break down with heat, maybe the flavor won’t be as strong, but it certainly isn’t dangerous, poisonous or bad for you.

      In fact, I would argue that deep frying in olive oil is much safer for you than canola because at least you’re getting some polyphenols in the mix. Anyway, that’s my two cents on frying in olive oil.

  2. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    So, even if the bottle says 100% olive oil? Or is this people just not reading labels?

    • teh says:

      Most oil isn’t labeled (on the front) as 100% anything. If it’s labeled as “olive oil” — as most are — you’d have to check the ingredients to figure out exactly what else is included (and still have no clue in what percentages).

      • MrsLopsided says:

        Checking the label for an ingredient list won’t help you. The problem is fraudulent labeling -claiming to contain olive oil when the bottle contains anything but.

      • cerbie_the_orphan says:

        Olive oil blended from olive oils from Spain, Greece, Italy, Turkey, etc., should still all be freaking OLIVE OIL.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      If it was a matter of people not reading the labels they couldn’t claim that the oil is adulterated.

    • LMacConn says:

      “…these oils being in there and it not being disclosed in any way…” [from the NPR article mentioned above]
      So, even if people read the labels, it was not disclosed.

    • MrsLopsided says:

      Canada (Toronto) had a problem with this a few years ago. It claims to be olive oil but it isn’t. 100% fraud. As a result I only buy national brands from known food-chain stores. Don’t trust unknown producers or independent grocers.

  3. chaesar says:

    if I have some of this bad oil, should I burn it, or dump golf balls onto it?

    • KyleOrton says:

      Rachel Ray soaks this up like a sponge. If you prefer not to handle Rachel Ray, use a sponge.

  4. dumblonde says:

    Is this US produced olive oil? Because I doubt Spanish and Italian olive oils are doing this.

    • Big Mama Pain says:

      In the US, it has to be disclosed if you’re blending other oils in with olive oil on the ingredients; but you could put lower quality olive oil in a bottle and slap it with an “extra virgin” label and there’s no law against it.

      • dumblonde says:

        I buy Betis olive oil made and bottled in Spain. Both regular for cooking and extra virgin for dressings, etc. The problem is that the American palate is not used to olive oil so anything will pass as olive oil. So I buy the brand my Spanish grandfather bought. Established brands like Betis or Borges would never sacrifice quality or their reputation like this. I’m sure good Italian brands are the same.

        • dumblonde says:

          Oh and Betis is run of the mill every day olive oil in Spain. It’s supposed to be “cheap” but it’s still good. I don’t know what it is about the US that people will eat whatever crap their fed. We could use some nice European food culture.

    • BuddhaLite says:

      That’s the thing. Chances are it’s US producers making exagerated claims that imported olive oil is substandard and needs to be regulated.

    • Pero says:

      Why do you think that the Italians and Spaniards are necessarily more honest than Americans?

      A lot of the “Italian” olive oil we get over here isn’t even really Italian. It’s grown in Tunisia or someplace and then merely bottled in Italy. Besides, if they had bad oil they wanted to get rid of, why not ship it here? We seem to love flavorless bad oils, just slap a “light” on the label.

  5. topher b says:

    Gosh, you mean the free market doesn’t stop people from dumping crap on consumers? You mean someoone selling olive oil might lie and say they’re selling EVOO when it’s actually palm oil? This free market is a lot less good at figuring stuff out than I thought! oops!

  6. mcnerd85 says:

    I blame this entirely on BP.

  7. Big Mama Pain says:

    Goya EVOO, all the way. I swear by Spanish olive oil over Italian any day.

    • dumblonde says:

      I agree with you. Although I prefer Betis but it just comes down to brand preference. Spain’s olive oil quality standards are high. They take it seriously

    • mydailydrunk says:

      Goya – good fo ya

  8. aloria says:

    Given all the peanuts-on-flights hysteria recently, all it’s going to take is someone with a nut allergy puffing up from adulterated EVOO to get this a huge amount of attention.

  9. Chris J. Stone says:

    “the U.S. is awash in low-quality, adulterated and even dangerous oils”

    This is true on multiple levels right now.

  10. KillerBee says:

    At least they are bottling and selling it and not dumping it all in the Gulf of Mexico.

    • tsukiotoshi says:

      But if they dumped it in Gulf all our shrimps would come deliciously pre-oiled and salted.

  11. BradenR says:

    Consumers will be less likely to expose themselves to toxins when they quit looking for the cheapest item available. Skip the grocery store and shop at a reputable, preferably organic, coop. Or better yet Make yourself feel good. Go straight to http://www.canaanfairtrade.com/ Buy wonderful olive oil and truly support struggling families.

    • Bernardo says:

      Wasnt there a few stories a while back that even organic stuff isnt regulated properly and there were fake organic things being sold? And whats wrong with saving a buck? I dont shop organic because its just too expensive sometimes. To me organic is the new “it” things so stores and producers are gauging consumers.

  12. Bernardo says:

    Are there any safe brands?

  13. sugarplum says:

    What about the ‘top eight’ allergens that have to be listed on food? Nuts, peanuts and fish should be on the blended oil. That should be regulated – no one wants to cook something and make someone ill because of false product labeling.

  14. c!tizen says:

    I don’t know about all of this, but I’ll bet Popeyes’ pissed.

    /rimshot

    … anyone? anyone? No, ok.

  15. redragon104 says:

    I only buy from Genco Olive Oil

  16. Retired Again says:

    Seems if it is making people ill …. NAMES of Products or some sort of guide should be offered.
    Makes all m Olive oils suspicious to me … maybe dangerous to my family?

  17. yankinwaoz says:

    Here is an idea. Keep it simple. Just copy the regs that Italy and Spain use to label their oils. They take it very seriously, so I have no problem trusting their standards.

    So, tell the companies they have to use Southern European standards in the US from now on.

  18. gman863 says:

    As someone of Sicilian descent, I can attest to the fact the claims of virginity for both olive oil and Italian women are grossly overstated.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Any time you have to add “extra” to “virgin”, you are asking for trouble.

  19. scurvycapn says:

    I stick with regular olive oil over extra virgin olive oil because “EVOO” just reminds me of that annoying Rachael Ray because that’s all she even says. “Add a tablespoon of EVOO, extra virgin olive oil. I don’t know why I ever abbreviate it because I always follow it up with saying the entire name anyway, but what do I know? I’m not a real cook, I’m an idiot who got a show for some reason.”

  20. Frank The Tank says:

    America….land of the free, home of the brave, states which will take the cheapest made s*it over quality ANY day!

  21. Wayward says:

    I think one of the problems is that the average American consumer is not very educated about olive oil, because one, it’s not really part of the culture and second, it is hard to get fresh oil here. So most people associate the flavor of olive oil with the rancid stuff they occasionally get from a store (And I mean rancid, some studies show that olive oil bottled in clear glass on the top shelf of a grocery store under fluorescent life goes rancid in as little as 80 hours) or don’t even have a standard to measure against.

    This makes the consumers of olive oil in this market vulnerable. In Europe, where olive oil is produced by a local farmer and wholesales to local customers, the oil is fresh and at least decent, and people know how to store it well, and would be more likely to notice if a brand has off oil.

    If you really want to find healthy, well made, fresh and safe olive oil, you should probably find a local producer. This will be especially easy if you live in California. That, or educate yourself about what you are buying, what to expect and who to trust.