When I posted Newman’s Own Proxy last November, it was to register my contempt over Newman’s Own Organics selling olive imported from Tunisia, over 6500 miles away, instead of supporting California’s organic olive oil producers. I was disgusted that the founder, Paul Newman’s daughter Nell, was allowing an expedient ‘business’ decision to be made for a few extra dollars of profit, a decision contradictory to her personal philosophy of supporting the farmers in the area around her Santa Cruz, CA home - something she stated in just about every interview. This sentiment of “eating locally,” was even echoed by her father in his final years. When I wrote that post, I assumed that the buyer or buyers at Newman’s Own Organics were at least qualified to judge good quality extra virgin olive oil, but now that fundamental assumption has come into question. The results of a study by the University of California Davis Olive Center published last week on the quality of imported and domestic extra virgin olive oil should give everyone pause to ask exactly what is in those imported bottles labeled ‘extra virgin olive oil’ sold under many name brands, including Newman’s Own Organics.
The report, Tests indicate that imported “extra virgin” olive oil often fails international and USDA standards, summarized the results of the study performed at the UC Davis Olive Oil Chemistry Laboratory in collaboration with the Australian Oils Research Laboratory at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute on 14 different imported and 5 domestic brands of ‘extra virgin’ olive oil to determine the quality of the oil in the bottles. Sample bottles of each brand were purchased in three different regions of California, Sacramento County, San Francisco Bay Area, and Los Angeles County. The samples were subjected to both laboratory tests and organoleptic (taste) tests and judged against the International Olive Council (IOC) standards, the USDA standards, as well as several of the standards developed by the German Fat & Oil Society (DGF) and the Australian Olive Association (AOA). The report concluded:
Our laboratory tests found that samples of imported olive oil labeled as “extra virgin” and sold at retail locations in California often did not meet international and US standards. Sensory tests showed that these failed samples had defective flavors such as rancid, fusty, and musty. Negative sensory results were confirmed by chemical data in 86 percent of the cases. Our chemical testing indicated that the samples failed extra virgin standards for reasons that include one or more of the following:
- oxidation by exposure to elevated temperatures, light, and/or aging; adulteration with cheaper refined olive oil;
- poor quality oil made from damaged and overripe olives, processing flaws, and/or improper oil storage.
- Our laboratory tests indicated that nine of ten California samples were authentic extra virgin olive oils, with one California sample failing the IOC/USDA sensory standard for extra virgin.
Our laboratory tests indicated that nine of ten California samples were authentic extra virgin olive oils, with one California sample failing the IOC/USDA sensory standard for extra virgin.
If you scroll down to the results chart on page eight of the report, the seventh brand listed is Newman’s Own Organics, and as you can see two of the three bottles tested were graded “virgin,” instead of “extra virgin” as they were labeled. The information in the report’s appendix indicate that the three sample bottles of Newman’s Own Organics Extra Virgin Olive Oil were produced and bottled in Tunisia with two of the bottles from lot/ batch LBT:055 JD:9187 (best before date July 2011) and the third from lot/batch LBT:530 JD:9099 (best before date April 2011).
The two bottles from lot/batch LBT:055 JD:9187 were graded in the organoleptic evaluation as “virgin” olive oil because of sensory defects. One of the two bottles also failed in tests for one of the IOC criteria and one of the DGF/AOA criteria while the second bottle from the batch just barely passed the test for the IOC criteria but failed the test for the DGF/AOA criteria. The bottle from lot/batch LBT:530 JD:9099 was graded as Extra Virgin by the organoleptic evaluation, but it did fail the test for the DGF/AOA criteria.
The bottom line here is that there is significant variation in the quality of the olive oil in the Newman’s Own Organics bottles, and the bottle on your shelf may suffer from the defects noted in the report’s conclusion, which also means that it isn’t as healthy for you as you think. Are the folks at Newman’s Own Organics knowingly buying bad oil? Probably not, but there is no telling if the oil they taste and sign a contract for is the same oil that is put in the bottles, after all the oil is produced and bottled 6500 miles away. Did I neglect to mention that olive oil adulteration and counterfeiting in the Mediterranean has been occurring for two to three millennia, or at least since the first olives were pressed.
If Newman's Own Organics cannot assure their customers that the olive oil they are selling is actually extra virgin, why should they believe that the proper steps have been taken to ensure that the oil is actually organic!!! (The recent findings of the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) brings the validity of organic certification of foreign food products into question.)
More to follow on the implications of the report for all those who think they are getting a bargain by buying the inexpensive 'brand' names of imported extra virgin olive oil.