Scientists Make Tool to Crack Down on Fraudulent Olive Labelling

Development of new laser diode tool may stop fraudulent mislabelling of low-quality olive oil as high-quality.
Jessica Miley

Researchers from the University of Madrid have developed a smart way to ensure what's on the label of high-quality olive oil is to be actually what's in the bottle.

The extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) industry has been wracked with incidences of fraudulent behavior over the last few years, with some producers' mislabelling of low-quality oil as high quality.

EVOO is one of the most profitable products of the Mediterranean region and ensuring quality brand status is essential for the industry to be able to maintain its reputation in a competitive market.

EVOO is defined by oil that has less than 0.8% free fatty acids and no tasting defects.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil labeling needs to have more strict rules

The oil must be mechanically extracted, meaning the olives are physically crushed and strained, rather than using a chemical process.

The industry has been shaken by recent examples of fraudulent behavior including last year when Italian police arrested people in connection with a scheme that attempted to export impure, lower-grade olive oil and sell it as top-tier extra virgin olive oil in New Jersey, USA.

“Consumption is falling because consumers have a lack of confidence and they don’t trust anything,” Deoleo head Pierluigi Tosato said, according to the Olive Oil Times.

The new tool can quickly identify fraudulently labeled oil

The new tool developed by the Madrid based researchers use laser diodes to distinguish between apparently similar oils that have notable quality differences.

The laser diodes can distinguish the oil quality as the fluorescence emitted by adulterated oils is slightly different to that of pure extra virgin olive oils. The tool is easy to manufacture using 3D printing and can be reproduced at a low cost.

"Other clear advantages of our tool include the possibility of conducting on-site analyses, because the equipment is the size of a briefcase and therefore portable, and of generating results in real time," said José S. Torrecilla, a senior lecturer and researcher in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials at the UCM.

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Producers must ensure standards are met

The tool will assist the industry to maintain the high standards required to avoid economic loss.

"The quality of olive oil is recognized nationally and internationally. It is, therefore, necessary to protect this quality and combat the fraudulent activities carried out with increasing frequency and skill in the sector," the UCM researcher explained.

A common fraudulent activity is apparently to mix fresh EVOO with inferior, cheaper olive oil or oils of another botanical origin. The tool was developed by mixing high-quality EVOO with oils that were past their use by date using oils commonly available to purchase.

Analysis of the results was done using chaotic algorithms. "This technique is available for use at any time, and only requires oils prior to packaging for quality control or after packaging to detect fraudulent brands and/or producers," concluded the UCM researcher.

The research will be published in an upcoming edition of Talanta journal.

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