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Judge Brian F. Holeman of the D.C. Superior Court has issued an omnibus order denying summary judgment in lawsuits against a number of D.C.-area grocery stores, among them Safeway and Giant-Landover, thereby enabling claims that the stores sold olive oil inaccurately labeled “extra-virgin” to proceed to trial. Dean Mostofi filed the lawsuits as a “private attorney general” under the district’s consumer protection law.
To qualify as extra virgin, olive oil must have certain chemical and sensory properties, as well as being free of all defects and chemical processing. The olive oil brands named in Mostafi’s suits include Carapelli, Filippo Berio, Pompeian, Bertolli and Safeway Select.
According to testing by the UC Davis Olive Center in 2010 and 2011, a large percentage of olive oil sold as “extra virgin” by those brands was actually of inferior grade. Mostofi also employed taste-testing “panels” of olive oil experts in both California and Australia to test bottles of olive oil he bought in the District of Columbia. The panels, along with an Australian chemical laboratory, indicated that some of the olive oil sold by the brands in question weren’t truly extra virgin.
Judge Holeman found that the testing performed by UC Davis and Mostofi’s experts was sufficient evidence to allow the claims to proceed to trial.
“This is a huge victory in a hard-fought battle against entrenched interests determined to prevent our case from going to trial,” said plaintiff’s counsel Hassan Zavareei, of Washington, D.C.-based Tycko & Zavareei LLP. “We are gratified that we will have an opportunity to put an end to this fraudulent food mislabeling in the District of Columbia. D.C. consumers have a right to get what they pay for.”
In response to a query from Progressive Grocer regarding the suits, Pompeian said that its product “is the only olive oil to have attained the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Quality Monitored seal and the NAOOA-certified quality seal, both of which utilize third-party panels to verify the purity and quality of olive oil.”
The Baltimore-based company added: “Our commitment to quality is proven by the fact that we voluntarily participate in these rigorous product tests and ongoing reviews of our production processes. We are proud to follow a standard that is far more stringent than what is required by law or followed by many of our competitors.”
When contacted by PG, a representative from Giant-Landover noted that the chain didn't comment on pending litigation.