Contaminants in Cretan olive oil: Exhaust fumes from olive oil mills, pesticides and plasticizers contaminate the olive oil

Lubricants and exhaust gases are a new group of contaminants for the olive oil produced in Crete, which are expected to be targeted by the European Union in the next two years at the latest. Therefore, both olive growers during olive harvesting and producers during the pressing of the olives must be as careful as possible and take the necessary measures and make the appropriate investments accordingly.

This important risk, along with the analysis of the problems in other groups of contaminants, such as pesticides and plasticizers, are revealed by the assistant professor of the Department of Agriculture at the Hellenic Mediterranean University Lefteris Alissandrakis.

“It is a new group of substances because its presence in olive oil has been analysed in recent years. They are some substances called mineral oil hydrocarbons, which are produced in foodstuffs in general by the incomplete combustion of liquid fuels. That is, when an olive grove is close to exhaust fumes, either from cars or from industries, then these fumes, if they come from incomplete combustion, can transfer these substances to olive oil, ” Mr. Alissandrakis says.
In fact, in addition to exhaust fumes, these substances can end up in the olive oil we produce in other ways. According to Lefteris Alissandrakis, assistant professor of Agriculture at the Hellenic Mediterranean University, “these substances can end up in olive oil from the use of lubricants used by producers during olive harvesting. In other words, we have the olive oil harvester. The oil runs out. We put oil in. A few drops of the oil from the machine fall onto the grids. The olives touch the oil. That’s how they’re transferred into the olive oil. Also, we have the chainsaw. We lubricate its chain. Again, some oil drips and this can end up in the olive oil.”

In addition, as the well-known scientist tells us, ‘a second way into the olive oil is through the exhaust fumes of the machines we use during olive harvesting’.

As he says, “for these substances there is still no legislation setting a tolerable limit, which means that at the moment there is no issue, but the EU is moving towards setting a tolerable residue limit, which means that we have to be careful about how these substances end up in olive oil.”

Continuing, Mr. Alissandrakis said: “The EU is very, very strict. And the tolerable residue limits set by the EU are much stricter than anywhere else in the world. So if the EU sets a limit for these substances, you can be sure that it will be so low that the content found in olive oil will not pose a risk. The problem will be with marketing every time we exceed the limit. Because the limit will certainly be so low that we will often exceed it if we are not particularly careful. Within the next two years there is a very good chance that we will have the EU setting such a limit.

The first and most dangerous category of contaminants in olive oil, as stated by the assistant professor of the Department of Agriculture of ELMEPA, Lefteris Alissandrakis, is the residues of pesticides.
“It is reasonable that they are found in olive oil, since they are allowed to be used in olive cultivation. And olive growers spray pesticides, it makes sense to find residues. So what we have to understand is that there are residue limits, which are very, very strict and constitute a safety for the consumer when they are not exceeded. So, there is a communication problem at the moment, because when the consumer hears residues, he says to you, ‘what I am eating is poison’. And that’s more than wrong.”

According to Lefteris Alissandrakis, “one issue is the banned substances. Again there is a misunderstanding here. A substance that is not allowed does not mean that it is dangerous. The reason it may be banned is that the company marketing it may not have an economic interest in using it in olive cultivation. So that in itself does not constitute a risk. What constitutes a risk is when we exceed the limits and when we use substances that may be dangerous to humans. Most of them are not dangerous for humans, because the framework for authorising pesticides has been tightened up very much.

He also points that in Crete there is a problem with the use of substances that have been banned. “There is misuse of pesticides. Here too, the producers are not solely responsible. The agronomists who sell the drugs also have their own responsibility. Because the producer has to get it from somewhere.”

Lefteris Alissandrakis speaks at this point for illegal imports of pesticides from third countries, some of which come to Crete, which he believes that he believes that poses risks, especially for marketing and the future of our product.
And a third category of contaminants, according to him, are plasticizers. “The contact of olive oil with plastic surfaces results in some substances used in the manufacture of the plastic ending up in the olive oil. Plasticizers are present in all plastics because they are substances that are necessary to make the plastic durable.

In conclusion, Mr Alissandrakis considers the use of plastic drums for the storage of olive oil to be a mistake. But also the use of plastic bags for the transport of olive oil. There are, he says, other groups of contaminants, but of little importance.


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