SANTA ANA, Calif.—A class-action lawsuit has been filed in Orange County Superior Court against some of California's largest distributors and retailers of extra virgin olive oil for misleading and defrauding California consumers by claiming the olive oil they sell meets the high standards of the "extra virgin" classification, when in fact the product does not meet that standard and is of inferior quality often adulterated with cheaper refined oils such as hazelnut oil or lesser olive oils.
The lawsuit, filed by Callahan & Baine, was the result of a recent UC Davis Olive Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at the University of California, Davis study that revealed 69% of imported olive oil and 10% of California olive oil failed to meet the IOC/USDA standards. The samples were found to be adulterated, and/or of poor quality mixed with cheaper refined oils.
The plaintiffs include famous chefs, famous restaurants and home cooking enthusiasts. The defendants named in the lawsuit include 10 major olive oil brands, including Bertolli, Filippo Berio, Carapelli, Star, Colavita, Mezzetta, Pompeian, Rachael Ray, Mazolla and Safeway Select. The lawsuit also names 10 retailers and supermarkets, including Bristol Farms, Gelson's Markets, Vons/Pavilions, Ralphs, Stater Brothers, Albertson's Market, Target, Wal-mart, Kmart and Nob Hill Foods.
"Defendants have been defrauding consumers by claiming the olive oil they are manufacturing, distributing and/or selling is of sufficient quality to call the product extra virgin olive oil, when in fact it is not, and it has been a fact known throughout the industry for some time," said lead counsel Daniel J. Callahan. “Additionally, the defendants do not insure that the actual extra virgin olive oil, which can deteriorate and become rancid with time and sun exposure, remains at a level worthy of the classification of extra virgin.
"Defendants' products are not worthy of the premium price charged for extra virgin olive oil. Nevertheless, the deceptive statements are printed clearly on the front of every one of their bottles of extra virgin olive oil. Thus, California consumers are being sold a low-quality product for the price of what one would expect to pay for a much higher-quality product, which results in an outrageous unjust enrichment to the benefit of the defendants."