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Class Action Filed Over Alleged Misrepresentation Of Olive Oil

SANTA ANA, Calif. - A class action lawsuit was filed Aug.2 in Orange County Superior Court by Callahan & Blaine against some of California's largest distributors and retailers of extra virgin olive oil (David W. Martin v. Carapelli USA, Llc, No. 2010-00395464, Calif. Super., Orange Co.).

According to Daniel J. Callahan of Callahan & Blaine in Santa Ana, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, "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."

According to the complaint:

Consumers spend $700 million a year on this product relying on the representation of these defendants that these oils are either domestic or imported extra virgin or virgin olive oils.

These misrepresentations have been proven false in a comprehensive study by the UC Davis Olive Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at the University of California, Davis in its comprehensive July 2010 report. The report is authored by the leading Ph.D.s, researchers and scientists in the nation on edible oil research and education. Cooperating and contributing to the funding, research and findings in this study were the California Olive Oil Council, the American Oil Chemists' Society and the Australian Olive Oil Association.

For years, chefs and home cooks have shared anecdotal tales of extra virgin olive oil that just did not taste right. The result of this comprehensive study is that 69 percent of imported olive oil and 10 percent of California olive oil failed to meet the IOC/USDA standards. These samples were found to be adulterated, and/or of poor quality mixed with cheaper refined oils.

The named plaintiffs include famous chefs, famous restaurants and home cooking enthusiasts. They include Chef David W. Martin from Bravo TV's "Top Chef" Season One; Michael D. Owings, an American restaurateur from Palm Springs, Calif., who is culinary director of Dink's Restaurant and Ultra Lounge Palm Springs and Antonello's Ristorante in the South Coast Plaza Village in Costa Mesa, Calif.

The defendants include some of the most well-known olive oil brands sold in California, including Bertolli, Filippo Berio, Carapelli, Star, Colavita, Mezzetta, Pompeian, Rachael Ray, Mazola and Safeway Select. The defendants also include the retailers and supermarkets who sell these products to California consumers, including Bristol Farms, Gelson's Markets, Vons/Pavilions, Ralphs, Stater Brothers, Albertson's Market, Target, Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Nob Hill Foods.

The case was assigned to Judicial Officer Nancy Stock.