Class Action Lawsuit Filed by Chefs Against Makers of Not So Virgin Olive Oil

Posted on August 7, 2010

Remember that study by U.C. Davis that most of the major olive oil brands that are labeled "extra virgin" are actually barely virgin in quality? Well, that study has sent shockwaves through the restaurant and gourmet communities who are understandably furious at being ripped off. Now a group of chefs had filed a class action lawsuit. The suit was filed in Orange County Superior Court by Callahan & Blaine against some of California's largest distributors and retailers of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The suit also sues supermarkets who sold the bogus olive oil.

Attorney Daniel J. Callahan said in a statement, "The Defendants, olive oil manufacturers, distributors and retailers who sell their product in the State of California, have been knowingly misleading and defrauding California consumers for years. Defendants have been claiming the olive oil they sell meets the high standard of the extra virgin classification, thus entitling Defendants to charge a hefty premium for the product, 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 relies heavily on the study by UC Davis Olive Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science which essentially said that huge brands such as Bertolli, Rachael Ray and Pompeii have been ripping off customers by putting inferior oils in bottles that say "extra virgin." They've also been charging a nice premium for the substandard oils.

Olive oil producers named in the lawsuit include Bertolli, Filippo Berio, Carapelli, Star, Colavita, Mezzetta, Pompeian, Rachael Ray, Mazola, and Safeway Select. Stores being sued for selling the inferior (and in some cases contaminated oil) include Bristol Farms, Gelson's Markets, Vons/Pavilions, Ralphs, Stater Brothers, Albertson's Market, Target, Walmart, Kmart, and Nob Hill Foods.

It's a very serious lawsuit and if it's certified as a class action, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth by olive oil defendants. So, will there be late night commercials asking you to call an 800 number if you've been duped by substandard olive oil? We'll be watching for it.