NSW DPI olive oil panel back in action

Asumi Willis, Belinda Taylor and Kerrie Graham

This Monday May 25 marked the day NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) olive oil sensory panel reformed to provide essential services to the industry, following its suspension due to COVID-19 restrictions.

When the sensory panel was suspended in early April, staff put their heads together to work out how they could reinstate the panel to classify olive oil.

NSW DPI laboratory manager, Belinda Taylor, said an innovative plan, determination and accelerated training program have solved the dilemma and the panel is back on deck.

“It’s a big win for Australian and international olive oil producers who can now submit oils from their 2020 harvest for sensory classification,” Ms Taylor said.

“Suspension of the sensory analysis panel was a concern for the industry as olive oil must pass both chemistry and sensory testing to be classified as extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), which attracts a premium price.

“Chemical analysis of olive oil has continued at our Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute (WWAI) laboratory uninterrupted by COVID-19, but convening the sensory panel posed unique issues.

“The panel consists of members of the public who are restricted from entering the WWAI site.

“Logistics for completing sensory analysis off-site, adhering to COVID-19 restrictions and complying with strict protocols for sensory panel sessions were too difficult to manage.

“It was very important to work out a way to meet the high demand for sensory analysis following the 2020 harvest which began here in April and in May for New Zealand customers.”

Eight sensory panel members must taste and check the aroma of olive oil for classification, and with only three trained NSW DPI staff available the decision was made to provide accelerated training for staff at WWAI.

Ms Taylor said seven staff volunteered to take part in an intensive three-week training course.

“Normally the course takes six weeks. We were very fortunate former panel leader and current member, Helen Taylor, was able to organise and run the course at very short notice,” she said.

“All seven staff passed with flying colours and now we have 10 fully-trained sensory panel specialists available at WWAI to support the olive oil industry.

“Finding ways to complete the training, while following the restrictions was a challenge. It was inspiring to see how the commitment and enthusiasm of our staff resulted in a positive outcome for NSW DPI and our customers.”

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