Insights & News

USDA Inspectors Trained on Sliced Olive Taste Parameters

On June 15-16, the Mondavi Olive Center at UC Davis trained between 25-30 USDA Inspectors on the flavor and quality standards all sliced ripe olives should meet.

“The goal of the training was to bring a more objective way of grading imported sliced black ripe olives,” said Dan Flynn, Director of the Olive Center. Currently, the USDA grades imports by physically tasting limited numbers of import samples. Judging taste and quality becomes very subjective.

Dan commented that “very few commodities and industries train USDA inspectors on what to look for when grading imports. Table olives were one of the few so far to do this.”

The California Ripe Olive Coalition sponsored Dr. J.X. Guinard, Professor of Sensory Science in the Food Science and Technology department at UC Davis to conduct sensory tests to determine what makes a quality sliced black ripe olive. It was Dr. Guinard’s findings that were the foundation for the USDA training. Study Details:

  • 8 trained judges evaluated 20 domestic and imported sliced black ripe olives.
  • Multiple samples came from California, Egypt, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco.
  • The judges developed 34 sensory attributes to describe appearance, flavor (taste and smell), texture and mouth-feel.
  • From here, 104 consumers tasted the 20 samples and rated preferences on the 34 attributes.

Dr. Guinard’s study found that consumers liked the Californian and Moroccan processed olives about the same and significantly more than the other imported olives.

Flavor (taste and smell) was the main driver of consumer preference vs. appearance, texture and mouth-feel.

“Hopefully, the training will help keep poor tasting, poor quality black ripe sliced olives out of the US market,” says Robin Robinson, VP of Marketing for Bell-Carter Foods. “When consumers eat bad tasting black ripe olives, it can affect future purchases and in the long run hurt our industry.”

The ultimate goal will be to develop an objective, chemistry-based analytical technique the USDA can use in the future, thus eliminating subjective taste testing.