Difficulties to export olive oil to the United States

22 Aug, 22 | Commerce and Exports

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We will start by looking at the data on which we have based ourselves to have the United States (USA) as a target within the export of olive oil.

  • The USA has 328.2 million inhabitants (in 2019).
  • The GDP figure in the US is 21.43 trillion dollars (in 2019) with which the United States ranks as the first economy in the world.
  • Per capita income is $65,297.52 (in 2019)

These three pieces of information, added to the growing interest in the Mediterranean diet and culture and the serious obesity problems, make the US one of the priority markets for olive oil exports.

We are going to know which are the organisms that regulate olive oil imports, as well as the main requirements and the difficulties that these requirements entail.

Regulation in the US is the responsibility of three organizations or entities:

  • The Federal Government
  • State Authorities
  • Local Authorities


In this way, a product or service marketed in the US can be affected simultaneously by regulations of these three administrative levels, therefore it is important to know in advance the final destination of the exports, in order to be able to take into account all the possible requirements that must be met. This in itself entails one of the difficulties in adapting to regulations.


Federal level

At the federal level, two Agencies are involved in the regulation of olive oil:

  • United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

This agency establishes the health and labeling requirements that olive oil and the containers that contain it must meet in order to be imported and marketed in the United States.


  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

It is limited to three areas. On the one hand, through the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), USDA sets quality standards for olive oil which, although voluntary, are widely used by US operators. In addition, USDA-AMS also regulates the requirements that organic products, including olive oil, must meet in order to be considered organic. Likewise, this department is also involved in the regulation of certain aspects related to wooden packaging pallets, which must be taken into consideration when importing agri-food products into the US.

FDA requirements to import into the US

Olive oil, like most foods for human consumption, must comply with certain health requirements derived from the Public Health and Bioterrorism Prevention and Response Act and with some of the programs included in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). ).

Likewise, they must respect certain requirements regarding the content of pesticides, additives, colorants, etc. Likewise, it must comply with the labeling requirements established by the FDA.


Bioterrorism Law

According to the Bioterrorism Act, the first requirement to be able to export olive oil to the US is that foreign facilities that manufacture, process, pack or store food, food ingredients or other products for use in human food and that are going to be exported and marketed in the US market are registered with the FDA.

In addition, it is essential that foreign facilities designate an agent in the US, this requirement being also necessary for the completion of the registration with the FDA of the exporting company. Said registration must be carried out prior to the export of the agri-food products and the agent in the US must confirm to the FDA that they accept to be the agent/importer of the foreign company.

Hence the importance of the selection, by Spanish exporters, of a good agent in the US, since this will be their interlocutor before the US authorities of the FDA and/or the CBP in the event that any problem arises during the shipment. import.

It is also necessary to carry out the Prior Import Notification, known as Prior Notice, whose objective is to allow the FDA to have prior knowledge of the shipments that are intended to be made to the US in order to analyze the documentation provided in advance and decide whether to proceed. to the inspection of the merchandise upon arrival in the US territory.



On the other hand, food products in general must comply with the programs established under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

With regard to olive oil, it requires that the food facilities where the product to be exported is obtained or processed have a food safety plan that includes an analysis of hazards and preventive controls based on risk with the aim of minimizing or prevent hazards that have been previously identified.

Similarly, regulations should be taken into account, such as the program that requires importers to verify that their foreign suppliers produce the food that is exported to the US with the same level of quality and protection for public health as those established in the US.

It also requires them to verify that imported foods are not adulterated and comply with all the labeling requirements established by the FDA.


Pesticide residue content

In accordance with the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, any pesticide or pesticide residue present in an agri-food product will be considered dangerous unless its content is within the maximum limits (Maximum Residue Limits) established by the Federal Agency United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or that there is an express tolerance exemption for said pesticide.

In the case of olive oil, as it is a product obtained from an unprocessed agricultural material such as the olive, it is possible that pesticide residues may be found. Therefore, special care must be taken to ensure that the pesticides used in olive cultivation are permitted in the US and that the maximum residue tolerances are also met.

Olive oil labeling

In the US, the labeling of food products under FDA control, including olive oil, is made up of mandatory and voluntary labeling.

  • Mandatory labeling

Products must carry two mandatory labels: general and nutritional.

  1. a) General labeling

The label must include:

  • Product name
  • Net content
  • Name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor
  • Indicate country of origin in English (eg Product of…).
  • Ingredient Statement
  • Declaration of the presence of allergens (see more information in the FDA Food Allergens Guide)


  1. b) Nutritional labeling:

It has very strict regulations both regarding the format and the dietary content of the product.

The nutritional label must include information on:

  • Number of calories per serving of the food product
  • Amount of total fat, saturated fat and trans fat
  • Cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals.


  • Voluntary labeling

It is highly regulated, so messages that could mislead consumers or health claims are not allowed, unless they meet the requirements set by the FDA and have been previously approved by said agency.

Food contact packaging and packaging requirements

It is important to bear in mind that the materials used to pack or package agri-food products must comply with the requirements set forth in this regard by the FDA Packaging & Food Contact Substances and the FDA Guidance for use of Recycled Plastics in Food Packaging.



USDA requirements to import into the US

Olive oil quality standards

The Agricultural Marketing Act 1946 is the basic rule by which the AMS is given the ability to establish quality standards for agri-food products. These standards are designed to facilitate the marketing control process, establishing a base for product quality programs.

Although they are voluntary, they are widely used in this country and many operators use them as a distinctive element of the products they sell. In the event that the different grades contained in these standards are used, all the requirements and parameters included therein must be met.

Olive oil and pomace oil have this type of voluntary quality standards, in force since October 25, 2010.



Regarding the types of olive oil, they are distinguished:

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • virgin olive oil
  • virgin olive oil not suitable for human consumption (lampante)
  • olive oil and refined olive oil

Regarding pomace oils:

  • olive pomace oil
  • orujo oil
  • refined olive and raw olive pomace oil


In practice, the US market accepts and uses the designations of the International Olive Council (IOC).

It is important to bear in mind that some US states are promoting the development of state regulations on commercial quality, so it is recommended to check the possible existence of these regulations depending on the final destination of the olive oil before starting. its export.

Given the importance of California in terms of olive oil, as it is the main producer of this type of oil in the US, it should be noted that this state has its own quality standards for this product.

The Californian Grade and Labeling Standards for Olive Oil, Refined-Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil was approved by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and is effective as of September 2014.


Organic olive oil - organic

Los productos orgánicos en EEUU están regulados por el USDA. El cumplimiento de estos requisitos permite la utilización del sello de producto orgánico del mismo organismo. Es importante señalar que, en principio, los requisitos que definen cuándo un producto es orgánico en EEUU no son plenamente coincidentes con los de la Unión Europea (UE).

USDA organic


However, the EU and the US have signed an equivalence agreement, which entered into force in July 2012, through which a series of organic products, including organic oil, that originate in any member of the EU will be recognized as such when exported to the US.

These products must be certified as organic by accredited organizations or companies. It is therefore advisable to check the entities that are authorized to carry out this type of certification and their scope of action (regional/national). Some of these entities can certify both with European standards and with US standards and in the event that the product complies with both types, it could bear both logos.


Phytosanitary requirements for wooden packaging pallets

Additionally, the phytosanitary requirements for whole wood packaging pallets established by the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a service also dependent on the USDA, must be taken into account.

Said requirements, among other things, demand that the wood on pallets or in means of loading and packaging be subjected to one of the treatments recommended by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), that is, heating in a furnace or fumigation with methyl bromide.





Shipment of samples

The shipment of samples intended for tasting in promotions and fairs is considered somewhat different from that of a normal import, although practically the same requirements must be met as if it were a commercial import to use.

muestras de aceite


The most relevant aspects to be taken into account are listed below:

  1. a)For the purposes of customs procedures, the provisions of Title 19 CFR 147 Trade Fairs will apply.
  2. b) Samples must meet the requirements of the Bioterrorism Act and FSMA.
  3. c) They must be labeled with an indelible label, indicating the consideration of the sample and its purpose, such as the inclusion in the label of an expression such as "For Trade Fair Only Sample- Not for Sale or Resale".
  4. d) If the samples are going to be consumed during the fair or exhibition, all applicable fees and tariffs must be paid. The legislation does not indicate a limit on the number of samples that can be introduced into the US territory, but CBP services will decide on a case-by-case basis..


Brands and patents

The Federal Agency in charge of registering and administering trademark and patent regulations in the US corresponds to the United States Patent & Trademark Office (US PTO).


Product Liability

There is no federal regulation that federally regulates the product liability legal framework.

Litigation is numerous, so the manufacturer and/or exporter should consider taking out, to the extent possible, insurance that covers their product and components in the US market.


Barcode - Uniform Product Code (UPC)

Some US importers require that imported products be labeled with the UPC or barcode used in this country (12 digits), which differs from that used in Europe and in most countries of the world (13 digits).



Finally, emphasize the importance of the Certification scheme according to the BRC Standard. The BRC certificate is considered today as an international benchmark for the qualification of suppliers of products and brands in supermarkets.

To enter the US market, it is undoubtedly essential to have this certification.


Source consulted: Institute of Foreign Trade of Spain.

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