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Fraudsters’ slick olive oil switch

You’re in the grocery store, and you’re pleased with yourself. You’ve just chosen a beautiful bottle of extra-virgin olive oil labeled with a picture of verdant Italian olive groves. Unfortunately, the liquid in that bottle also contains soybean, corn, sunflower, cotton, hazelnut, peanut and palm oils. Olive oil fraud is rampant. Here’s how the oily criminals commit their crimes and how to prevent them.

When 62-year-old Luciano Sclafani, a Sicilian food importer, visited his local grocery store in Connecticut, what he saw on the shelves stopped him in his tracks. Next to a one-liter bottle of his company’s brand of extra virgin olive oil1 (EVOO), which sold for $25, was a competitor’s three-liter container selling for $9.99.

Sclafani suspected something wasn’t right, so he contacted the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. Food inspectors from the department discovered through laboratory testing that the competitor’s olive oil product also contained additional oils: peanut, soy and hazelnut, according to Connecticut Puts The Squeeze On Olive Oil Fraud, by Diane Orson, NPR’s Morning Edition, Dec. 18, 2008.

In 2007, U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigators and U.S. marshals confiscated more than 10,000 cases of olive oil in New York and New Jersey storage facilities. Analysis revealed that the bottles labeled as “extra virgin olive oil” contained mostly soybean and low-grade olive-pomace oil. The estimated value of the seized products was more than $700,000, according to the NPR story.

Not only are consumers duped into paying for low-quality counterfeit products, but they also might be at risk for allergic reactions to the undisclosed types of nuts used to adulterate the olive oil.


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