The many ways to certify extra virgin olive oil

Olive oil processing

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and the phrase is also true for extra virgin olive oil. There are possibly four ways that you can determine whether a product labelled ‘extra virgin olive oil’ is what it says it is. Either the oil bears the logo of a particular code of practice that the brand subscribes to, or it is labelled as compliant with a particular standard.


And there are two other certification methods that don’t require producers to sign up to a code:
  1. Australian Standard AS5265-2011 – oil is tested and complies with the standard. Information about compliance may be displayed on the packaging. This can apply to both Australian and imported oils. The Australian Standard is a voluntary standard and has not been mandated.
  2. The International Olive Council standard  COI/T.15/NC No 3/Rev. 11 – Oil is tested and complies with the standard. Information about compliance may be displayed on the packaging. The standard can apply to both Australian and imported oils.

The Australian standard for extra virgin olive oil

There is an Australian standard for extra virgin olive oil, AS5265-2011

This Standard was prepared by members of Joint Standards Australia/Standards New Zealand Committee FT-034, Olive Oils, however after consultation with stakeholders in both countries, Standards Australia and Standards New Zealand decided to develop this Standard as an Australian Standard rather than an Australian/New Zealand standard.It applies only to oils sold in Australia and cannot be used for oils that are exported to other countries.

The Standard is the culmination of almost ten years of work by the Australian Olive Association (AOA), including the funding of world-leading research in partnership with Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and the long-term work on international trade standards in conjunction with the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). Despite the involvement of the AOA in the development of the Standard, it is not owned by them. It is owned by Standards Australia, which means that anyone who wishes to sell extra virgin olive oil within Australia may use it.

This Standard recognises that olive oil is a natural product and regularly presents variation in its chemical composition. All limits in this Standard have been established to accommodate the most common natural variations, particularly in Australian olive oils, without compromising the ability to detect adulteration. It applies to all olive oils and olive-pomace oils that are traded in Australia. The Australian Standard was based on the 2010 IOC Standard and therefore all measured parameters in this standard are the same as the IOC standard (except for two added parameters: pyropheophytin (PPP) and diacylglycerols (DAGs), however the Australian Standard has specified different levels for some parameters as well as different terminology and naming conventions, when compared to the IOC standard. PPPs and DAGs are not necessarily measures of adulteration – they are more commonly measures indicating levels of oxidation and sensory defects relating to degradation of oliev oil over time.  This is why they haven’t been accepted by the IOC,  because it is actually not about the purity or authenticity (or initial grade) of the oil, and is exposed to the issue of conservation over time.

The Standard applies to all olive oils and olive-pomace oils that are traded in Australia for those that have opted to prescribe to producing oils to these additional measures.

Oils that comply with the criteria for extra virgin oils according to Table 5 of the standard are entitled to be sold as extra virgin within Australia.

The International Olive Council standard for olive oil

Until the voluntary Australian Standard was created in 2011, the International Olive Council standard  COI/T.15/NC No 3/Rev. 11 was the only recognised standard for olive oil within Australia. It is still the standard that should be used for oils that are exported from Australia to other countries, and it is also still valid within Australia.  It is still the authoritative global standard for olive oil. This standard fixes the physico-chemical and distinguishing quality and purity criteria of each designation (grade) of olive oil and olive-pomace oil that is mentioned in the Agreement. The IOC members are committed to prohibiting the use of any product designations other than those specified.

The trade standard also specifies how samples of olive oil should be collected and sampled. The IOC collaborates with olive oil chemistry experts from its member countries to develop relevant methods. The IOC also collaborates with other international organisations and in some instances it refers to methods of analysis of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS).

The IOC trade standard deals with other aspects, such as food additives, contaminants, hygiene, packing, pack fill tolerances and labelling of olive oil and olive-pomace oil.

More about IOC standards can be found on the IOC website.

Codes of practice

Basically there is a choice of two codes that olive oil producers can subscribe to. These involve paying a fee to the relevant industry body and complying with additional requirements of the code
  1. Australian Olive Association (AOA) Code of Practice – oil must comply with the Australian standard and undergo random supermarket testing. The code only applies to Australian oils.
  2. Australian Olive Oil Association (AOOA) certification – oil must comply with the International Olive Council (IOC) standard and undergo random supermarket testing. This code applies to both Australian and imported oils.

Both of these codes also endorse best practice and end-to-end monitoring of the quality of olive oil from the grove to the supermarket.

The Australian Olive Association code of practice

Australian extra virgin symbol
The Certified Australian Extra Virgin™ symbol

This is is voluntary industry code of conduct that sets out specific standards of conduct for an industry in relation to the manner in which it deals with its members as well as its customers. These standards are voluntarily agreed to by its signatories.

By becoming a signatory to the code, which involves becoming a member and payment of a fee to the Australian Olive Association, producers of extra virgin olive oil may use the the Australian Olive Association’s Code of practice certification symbol(s) on their olive oil. The symbol may only be used by signatories who have met all their obligations under The Code. The Australian Olive Association says that the symbols are the industry’s method of guaranteeing the authenticity of its products. It distinguishes quality certified Australian products from other products in local and international marketplaces. This means that, even though imported extra virgin olive oils may comply with the Australian standard, only Australian olive oils can be marketed under the provisions of the AOA code of practice.

Signatories to the AOA code of practice must:

  1. Undertake product testing annually meeting AS 5264-2011 requirements for true classification for each product to be certified under the Code of Practice.
  2. Ensure that all product labels to be certified are compliant with AS 5264-2011, Australian Consumer Law Export market and Code requirements.
  3. Provide evidence of having a HACCP style food safety / food quality plan – either ‘in-house’ or as part of a third party certification arrangement.
  4. Provide evidence of having a product traceability system including the use of unique batch codes, supply chain records and a product recall system in place.

In addition, the signatories to the code must agree to allow the AOA to occasionally collect samples of their products from supermarkets and test them for compliance with the Australian standard.

More information about the AOA Code of practice is available on the AOA website.

Australian Olive Oil Association certification

AOOA quality seal
The Australian Olive Oil Association quality seal

In Australia, the Australian Olive Oil Association (AOOA) is responsible for assisting the International Olive Council (IOC) in monitoring and regular random testing of major brands of olive oil sold in Australia.

The AOOA offers a Certified Quality Seal Program as a way to recognise and promote olive oils that measure up to the industry’s standards of excellence. The seal program follows International Olive Council (IOC) standards in its tests including sensory analyses and an array of chemical tests.

The AOOA seal aims to give consumers an added level of confidence that they are buying 100% authentic product

According to information from the AOOA,

the Certified Quality Seal Program demonstrates the AOOA’s long-standing commitment to educate consumers about the benefits of olive oil and ensures the integrity of the product. It also lets product marketed by AOOA members stand out from the competition, and with good reason. These companies have taken the initiative to lead the industry by following International Olive Council (IOC) standards. For more than fifty years, the IOC has been recognised as the worldwide quality-standard-setting body for the olive oil industry and its standard is the basis for the newly implemented Australian standard.

Brands participating in this program agree to have samples taken directly from the retail marketplace, in the same manner any consumer would purchase them.  An annual licensing fee for the Seal program allows the AOOA to perform rigorous quality testing of each product each year.

Which method is the best?

It’s up to an olive oil producer to decide whether to participate in a paid certification scheme such as the AOA Code of Practice or the AOOA certification. Both of these schemes do attempt to provide consumers with the confidence that the oil they are buying is produced in a well-regulated environment. An oil that complies with a particular standard but is not part of one of these schemes is still extra virgin, but it isn’t necessarily produced to the requirements set out in either of the competing schemes. It won’t carry a seal, and there’s no scheduled follow-up supermarket testing.

Australian producers of olive oil must also decide what the final market for the oil will be. If it is to be sold in Australia, then the Australian Standard or the AOA Code of Practice are suitable. However, if the oil is to be exported, the IOC standard will apply. The important thing for an olive oil producer to do is to determine where their product is going. Some countries have particular standards for extra virgin olive oil – for example California has its own requirements. China also has particularly stringent requirements that also cover packaging.

For consumers, the best way to check that the oil you are buying is extra virgin is to either check the harvest date on the label, or to make sure that the best before date is a long time in the future. Remember, olive oil is a fresh fruit juice and will deteriorate over time. Buying the freshest oil that you can find is the best way to make sure that you are getting the best quality expression of Australian extra virgin olive oil.