Olive Oil Quality & Authenticity: Current EU Legislation, Standards, Methods of Analyses


Normative and standard sources for  olive oil quality and purity. 
Analytical methods for olive oil : drawbacks and limitations.
Normative failures and suggestions for improvements. 

The physical, chemical and organoleptic characteristics of olive oil (OO) are regulated by the European Union (EU) by Reg. (EEC) 2568/91 as amended, which also establishes methods for their analysis.

Despite the fact that the OO sector is highly regulated, it is acknowledged that there are still problems; fats and oils, including OOs, are ranked third, after meat and meat products and fish and fish products, in the 2016 EU Food Fraud report on non-compliances per product category.

For this reason, EU legislation, among the most advanced in the field, continuously chases after the emerging frauds. The process of proposing new methods or reviewing those current is constantly in progress, to ensure the robustness and the clarity required by official standardized procedures.


Scope and Approach

This review will identify current gaps in EU legislation and discuss drawbacks of existing analytical methods with respect to OO. Suggestions for replacement of specific steps within the present EU methods with more efficient analytical solutions to reduce time and/or solvent consumption will be proposed.

Key Findings and Conclusions

This review critiques existing regulatory methods and standards, highlights weaknesses and proposes possible solutions to safeguard the consumer and protect the OO market.


Normative and standard sources for olive oil quality and purity: a global framework

OOs have to comply with different rules and standards depending on where they are traded: three of the most important standards are those specified by the EU, the International Olive Council and the Codex Alimentarius. Within the EU, all OO legislation is comprised of regulations, i.e. mandatory rules. The early Regulation by EEC where olive oil has been mentioned was Reg (EEC) 136/66, a regulation for the establishment of a common organisation of the market of fats and oils that posed the basis for the descriptions and definitions of olive oils and residue olive oils marketed within the Member States and third countries. It, however, just established descriptions and definitions of different types of olive oils and did not report a detailed list of analytical parameters and related analytical methods. Further Regulations were later published: Reg (EEC) 177/66, repealed by Reg (EEC) 618/72, subsequently repealed by Reg (EEC) 1058/77, which was finally repealed by Reg (EEC) 2568/91. This latter is the cornerstone of all EU legislation on OO, establishing four important issues:-

~ the parameters that can be used to check for OO quality and purity, also indicating that no other parameter can be used for this purpose when an official control is carried out;

~ limits for each parameter and commercial category of OO;

~ descriptions of analytical methods that have to be used to assess if a sample of OO fits the limits (specification) of the commercial category for all the parameters in the regulation;

~only methods reported within this regulation, as amended, can be used for official control.


The EU Regulations are valid within the EU area, while outside this, International Olive Council (IOC) standards apply. The IOC, formerly the International Olive Oil Council, established in 1963 a “Trade standard for olive oils and olive pomace oils” that is a reference for any country which is a member of IOC. Member countries are obliged to apply it in the frame of international trade and, in the meantime, are encouraged to approximate their legislation to IOC Trade standard. After EEC turned to EU, the latter became a member of IOC (while, earlier, it was an observer and single countries were members), so that EU must harmonize its regulation to IOC Trade Standard. If OOs are considered in a worldwide scenario, different rules must be considered: in such a case, edible OOs, as most of foods, undergo to the standard developed by Codex Alimentarius whose Commission has at now more than 180 Members made up of 188 Member Countries and 1 Member Organization (The European Union) (i.e. within the frame of FAO-OMS), whose mission is to facilitate the international trade of foods and to reach harmonization, that is a very hard mission due to the high number of countries involved. The OO standard is CODEX STAN 33-1981, reviewed in 2017. The Codex standard has a unique structure: some essential purity and quality characteristics are fixed as mandatory, while for a number of further characteristics adoption by a member is voluntary. More