Oleum Project Seeks Better Solutions to Protect Olive Oil Authenticity

Oleum is a major project that is part of the EU framework program Horizon 2020, conceived with the goal to assure and increase the level of authenticity and quality of olive oil at a global scale.

Carried out by a consortium of 20 international partners, operating in the fields of food analysis, food legislation, industrial equipment engineering, bioinformatics, communication and knowledge exchange, Oleum is coordinated by Tullia Gallina Toschi of the Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences of the Alma Mater Studiorum – University of Bologna.

According to 2016 data from the International Olive Council (IOC), the plan assumes that Europe is the largest producer of olive oil accounting for 69.6 percent of world production, and at present several non-EU countries are expanding their domestic production. While IOC member countries account for 92 percent of world olive oil supply, 81 percent of olive oil demand comes from non-member countries including USA, Brazil, Japan, China, Australia and Canada.

In the light of these data, increasing competitiveness and expanding markets in non-producing countries, combined with a lack of a centralized databank of validated methods and a lack of harmonization could lead to significant weaknesses that can be exploited by counterfeiters.

Based on the analysis of the European market scenario from now to 2020, new common approaches and analytical tools to check the quality and authenticity of olive oil are timely and urgent, with a view to safeguard consumers and enhance the confidence of export markets, including new markets and non-producer countries in the EU.

On this basis, a call for proposals, launched by the EU in 2013 was the starting point of the OLEUM project. “The call mainly referred to an improvement of work specifically intended for control laboratories,” Gallina Toschi explained. “This means a strong research effort aimed to improve the existing methods while simplifying them and increasing their affordability.

Accordingly, we started to work to propose innovative, and most of all useful, tools,” she pointed out.

“First, we identified four main gap levels in the sector that need to be addressed through research and development which include the legislative and regulatory aspects, the analytical sphere, the area of harmonization and coordination, and the consumer and market confidence,” said the coordinator.

In this sense, the strategic objectives of the working group are aimed at developing new and improved methods for assuring the quality and authenticity of olive oil; at implementing an integrated quality assurance infrastructure for methods of analysis including reference materials, a downloadable library of analytical methods and compositions; and at developing and supporting a worldwide community of analytical laboratories involved in the analysis.

The first specific goal is to enable EU and international regulators and policy makers with an array of potential solutions that can contribute to the improvement of regulatory standards or regulations based on an analysis of areas where a lack of methods has led to failures; for instance, the difficulties concerning the identification of “soft-deodorization.”

Next, existing methods of olive oil quality control and fraud detection will be revised, through the identification of drawbacks and the improvement of methods, in terms of performance and efficiency.

The OLEUM international group will also work to enhance the methodology for organoleptic assessment improving reproducibility and developing a quantitative equivalent procedure (Quantitative Panel Test). More