several bottles of olive oil from three different brands on display on a table

With the tourist season underway in Greece, restaurants are welcoming visitors to enjoy the mouth-watering Greek dishes that delight diners from across the globe. Since Greek cuisine and the Mediterranean diet would hardly exist without olive oil, many believe this liquid gold should have a place of honor on restaurant tables, as Greek law now allows.

Last fall, a roundtable discussion on the ideal packaging of olive oil on restaurant tables took place at the Grecotel Caramel Resort in Rethymno, Crete to bring attention to little-known changes in Greek legislation. Since March 1, 2020, Greek law has allowed standardized non-refillable bottles holding up to 500 ml of olive oil to be placed on restaurant tables.

The roundtable event in Crete aimed to share information about this change with people who work in restaurants, catering, and olive oil production and packaging, and to promote the legislation now in force in Greece. The previous law (Ministerial Decision 91354/2017 - Government Gazette 2983/B/30-8-2017) required the use of sealed non-refillable or single-serving packaging on restaurant tables starting on January 1, 2018.

The 2020 change, with the removal of the word "sealed" for the non-refillable packaging, remains unknown to most people, so that it seems “new” even three years later. Nowadays, a non-refillable bottle of olive oil can legally be placed on every restaurant table in Greece and used by the various customers who sit there, until the bottle is empty, when it must be discarded. It is no longer necessary to provide a new, sealed container for each customer or group.

News of the legislative change has not yet been widely disseminated, despite being extremely beneficial to both restaurants and olive oil producers and bottlers. A major reason for the general ignorance about the change and its virtual lack of implementation is that it coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of restaurants in Greece. In addition, for more than two years health concerns led consumers to prefer single-serving packaging. Today, however, the circumstances are very different, and everyone involved in the restaurant sector, including customers, should be aware of the current law.

Although individual sealed packaging was initially considered a good initiative to help counter the uncontrolled use of bulk olive oil in restaurants, it did not succeed due to its high cost and environmental impact. The tragic result was that olive oil practically disappeared from restaurant tables. If customers wanted extra olive oil, they would have to ask for it and usually pay a very high price for it, or else the dish would have to be taken to the kitchen and oil would have to be added there, to avoid the risk of a large fine.

Roundtable participants in Rethymno stressed the huge environmental cost of individual packaging. For example, the target of annual standardization of 10,000 metric tons of olive oil for use in the restaurant and catering sector is equivalent to the production of 100 million plastic packages for individual use, which costs the consumer 5-10 euros per kilogram of olive oil. The use of 500 ml glass bottles is much more environmentally friendly and far more economical.

In addition to the issues of monetary and environmental costs, speakers emphasized that little single-serving olive oil packages create a derogatory image of this Greek national product in the eyes of consumers, which is especially problematic in tourist areas. The use of larger, well-designed, non-refillable 250 ml or 500 ml bottles that dominate the decor of a table can upgrade customers’ perception of olive oil in the restaurant or hotel, thus highlighting the high status of nutritious olive oil in Greek cuisine and the Mediterranean diet. This would show and cultivate more respect for the product, as with bottled wine.

The use of larger bottles also makes room for clearly legible labels with information about the quality and origin of the olive oil, and in many cases the beneficial health properties of olive oil that qualifies for the European Union health claim. Moreover, it enables restaurants and hotels to develop their own olive oil brands, and generally works against the monopolization of the market by individual packaging companies with specialized single-use package production lines.

Scientists at the roundtable discussion mentioned studies that prove that the use of non-refillable bottles has almost no negative effect on the quality of olive oil, even if the bottles are used for up to one month. For example, a 500 ml bottle is sufficient for 16 Greek salads, which shows that this is an ideal quantity to place on the table without worrying about long-term stress on the olive oil.

Roundtable presenters pointed out that at fine dining establishments with special refrigerators for wines (set to 12-15 degrees C) there is also the possibility of storing olive oil in the refrigerator along with wine to ensure the preservation of all the aromatic and healthy characteristics of olive oil for a very long time. Haute cuisine restaurants could even create an olive oil bar and a menu featuring a variety of extra virgin olive oils in order to promote the idea of olive oil tasting and the food pairing of each dish with the most suitable olive oil.  

The 20 roundtable participants shared a wish to have olive oil return to restaurant tables throughout Greece, especially in the olive-producing tourist areas, such as Crete and the Peloponnese. They also agreed that if there is an additional amendment to the law in the future, it would be desirable for it to call for the use of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in restaurants and catering in place of lower grades of olive oil, since EVOO is the spearhead of the Greek agricultural economy.

This satellite event concluded the Cretan Lifestyle: Mediterranean Tradition & Modern Applications conference, which was organized at Grecotel by the new Hellenic Center of Excellence for Health & Wellness, the Region of Crete, and the World Olive Center for Health. The November 12 roundtable was organized by the Director of Operations of Grecotel Hotels, Dimitris Kalaitzidakis.

Greek Liquid Gold was a Technical Partner of the Cretan Lifestyle: Mediterranean Tradition & Modern Applications conference. Thanks to the Hellenic Center of Excellence for Health & Wellness and Grecotel for access to the complete experience of the conference.

All businesses, organizations, and competitions involved with Greek olive oil, the Mediterranean diet, and/or agrotourism or food tourism in Greece, as well as others interested in supporting Greeks working in these sectors, are invited to consider the advertising and sponsorship opportunities on the Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil website.   The only wide-ranging English-language site focused on news and information from the Greek olive oil world, it has helped companies reach consumers in more than 220 countries around the globe.

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