Last updated on 13 August 2001

Olive-Pomace Oil: Your questions answered

Olive-Pomace Oil: Your questions answered: 14 August 2001

  • What is Olive-Pomace Oil and why are you issuing advice about it?

    Olive-Pomace oil is made from the residue left after producing virgin olive oil. It is the lowest grade of oil and it represents only a tiny amount of the UK vegetable oil market, around 0.25% of the one million tonnes consumed each year.

    In July the Spanish government told us that high levels of contaminants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which can cause cancer, were found in some olive-pomace oil products.

    The contamination is believed to result from the process used to produce this oil. The Spanish government introduced a temporary ban on olive-pomace oil in response to these findings.

    It has now set legal limits for the maximum amount of PAHs in olive oil.

    The FSA has issued a list of products withdrawn from the UK market because they contained the affected oil (see below). This list will be updated as new information becomes available.

    Now the European Commission (EC) has told us that high levels of PAHs were also found in samples of two specific olive-pomace oil products from Italy and Greece.

  • Tell me about these affected products

    The products affected are two batches of Bevelini Olive Pomace Oil produced in Greece and sold in the UK in five-litre cans and one-litre bottles.

    The first batch is marked with an expiry of 06/2002, lot number 19062000146M. The second batch has an expiry date of 04/2003 and the lot number is 20042001091M.

    The EC also alerted the FSA to a problem with a specific Italian olive-pomace oil, Dentamano Olio Di Sansa De Oliva. We are investigating whether this product was sold in the UK.

  • What do I need to know about PAHs?

    PAHs which include benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) are widespread environmental pollutants that are present in very low levels in many foodstuffs.

    We are exposed to possible cancer-causing chemicals such as PAHs, as part of everyday life, but our exposure to these chemicals should be reduced as far as possible in food.

    PAHs are formed during burning of fossil fuels and refuse and are also present in tobacco smoke and vehicle exhaust emissions.

    They include a number of chemicals that have been found to cause cancer in animals and also people following occupational exposure to high levels.

    Because some PAHs, including benzo(a)pyrene, interact directly with the genetic material in the cell, it is not possible to identify a safe level of intake or exposure.

  • How may using the contaminated oils affect me?

    It is unlikely that you will suffer any adverse effects from consuming the contaminated oil and associated products.

    It isn't possible to gauge the cancer risk if you are exposed to foods with levels of genotoxins higher than those normally found in food.

    Experts advise that our genotoxic intake should be as low as possible. Because this additional exposure is avoidable we are as a precautionary measure advising people not to consume PAH containing this olive-pomace oil.

  • Who decides what levels are safe?

    The FSA consulted the chairman of the UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment.

    He has confirmed that some PAHs including benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) are genotoxic carcinogens (something which can cause cancer by disrupting genetic material) and advised that any refined oil, including olive-pomace oil, used in food production should not have levels of BaP higher than those found in other refined vegetable oils.

    Refined oils generally contain less than 2 micrograms per kilogram (parts per billion - ppb) of BaP .

    Where olive-pomace oil is used as an ingredient it should not contribute more than 2 micrograms per kilogram BaP to the food.

  • What PAH levels were found in the Bevelini product?

    The first batch was reported to contain 100 parts per billion (ppb) of benzo(a)pyrene (BaP).

    The FSA advice is that we would expect olive-pomace oil to contain less than 2 ppb of BaP.

    The second batch has been withdrawn on a precautionary basis while samples are being tested. We hope that the tests, being carried out by CSL labs in York, will be completed early next week (beginning August 20).

  • What PAH levels were found in the Dentamano product?

    Samples of Dentamano Olio Di Sansa were reported to contain 12.4 ppb BaP. We are not aware that this is on sale in the UK, but we are investigating and will issue further advice if necessary.

  • What is the FSA doing in the light of this information?

    The FSA acted to withdraw Spanish olive pomace oils and pomace oil products in response to the initial reports from Spain. Products containing olive-pomace oil recalled by manufacturers as at August 10 2001 are:

    • Lidl Golden Sun Olive Gold
    • Safeway Olive (batches dated before BBE 18 Oct 01)
    • Safeway Olive Light (batches dated before BBE 18 Oct 01)
    • Weight Watchers from Heinz Olivite Low Fat Spread with Olive Oil.

    We are investigating the two new cases notified by the EC to find out if these products have been distributed in the UK and to ensure that appropriate action is taken to withdraw any affected products.

    We have also written to industry and other interested parties informing them that elevated levels of BaP have been found in Bevelini and Dentamano brands of olive-pomace oil.

  • Are you planning to do anything else?

    We are also investigating the cases reported by the EC to establish the distribution of products and that appropriate measures are taken to withdraw affected products.

    Secondly, we will publish details of affected products as soon as they are available, together with advice to consumers, enforcement officials and industry.

    Thirdly, we will carry out a survey in the next few months to assess levels of PAHs in olive-pomace oil. Spain and other EU member states are carrying out similar studies.

  • Do you know where the Italian and Greek products were sold?

    They were distributed mainly for use by caterers and have been withdrawn by the UK distributor.

    The FSA advises that any of these products remaining in circulation should be removed from sale and not used. We are not aware of the Italian product being sold in the UK.

  • Can I still use olive oil and products containing olive oil?

    Yes. The problem does not affect any other type of olive oil or products such as virgin, extra virgin, or olives themselves.