The 18-month expiry date dates back to a 2013 law which included measures to protect quality and enhance transparency of the supply chain, according to which the date of minimum durability should not exceed 18 months from the date of bottling, and should be preceded by the words "best before".
Food lawyer at Italian law firm Lex Alimentaria, Daniele Pisanello, told FoodNavigator the expiry date was inconsistent with EU law.
“Such a provision is not fully consistent with one of [the] ground principles of food labelling which recognises that it is up to the food manufacturer to assess the date until which the food retains its specific properties when properly stored.
“It is pretty normal that the European Commission considered it to be inconsistent with EU regulation as it affects the choice of the individual producers to declare the minimum durability of their own responsibility.”
If the proposed legislation is passed it will be up to the producer to declare this information or not.
But according to Italy’s agricultural and farmers association, Coldiretti, this is tantamount to doing away with the date completely and it has opposed the new law, arguing that it put commercial interests above consumers.
“With age the oil begins to gradually lose all the organoleptic qualities that characterise it (polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins) and which form the basis of the properties that make it a valuable food for health in slowing down degenerative processes in the body,” it said.
“With the implementation of the EU guidelines the expiry date will be not more than 18 months, but may be decided freely by the bottlers, which amounts in fact to delete it, since everyone can put it on its own commercial interests and there is an obvious risk that many will use the opportunity to dispose of old oil.”
But, as Pisanello points out, minimum durability dates are not about safety while ‘use by’ dates apply only to foods that are highly perishable from a microbial point of view, which does not cover olive oil.
Under EU law minimum durability dates are not required for foods such as vinegar, cooking salt, solid sugar, chewing gum or bakery and pastry products which, "given the nature of their content, are normally consumed within 24 hours of their manufacture".
Members of ColdirettiMarche have pledged to continue adding an 18-month expiry date to bottles. “In this way we will continue to provide consumers with quality products that have, in recent years, seen the extra virgin Marche become synonymous with excellence,” said president of Coldiretti Marche, Tommaso Di Sante in a statement in Italian.
The proposal must now undergo legislative proceedings and be adopted by the Parliament’s two chambers.
The European Commission did not respond in time for publication of this article.