Italian authorities are investigating seven companies that are well known olive oil producers for allegedly falsely advertising and selling olive oil products as “extra virgin”. If found guilty the companies will be charged with “commercial fraud”.
The producers include brands well known in the U.S - Bertolli, Carapelli and Sasso. The other four producers being investigated are Antica Badia, Coricelli, Prima Donna and Santa Sabina.
A spokesperson for the Prosecutor's Office in Turin says the investigation was launched after the office received a “tip-off from a specialist journal”. He would not say if the journal had carried out tests on the olive oils to determine their quality, or if the information was just hear-say.
The Prosecutor’s Office has hired an independent food laboratory to carry out tests on 20 of the most popular brands of extra virgin olive oil sold nationally in Italian supermarkets. So far, the tests have revealed nine of the producers have falsely claimed that the olive oil is extra virgin on bottle labels.
The spokesperson says the producers have “allegedly flouted the strict rules governing the production of extra virgin olive oil.”
The process to produce extra virgin olive oil is time consuming and expensive, but despite the complicated production process, extra virgin olive oil is easy to tamper with, making it very difficult for non-expert consumers to taste the difference.
Extra virgin oil is the highest quality and most expensive olive oil classification, boasting a flavor of fresh olives. It must be produced entirely by mechanical means without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that will not degrade the final product.
Producers are required to carry chemical tests before the highly-demanded product can be labelled and sold as extra virgin.
Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry last year seized fake oil worth as part of a food fraud crackdown. Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina says, “We’re closely following the Turin Prosecutor's Office investigation.”