Olive oil and shelf life: how long can you keep olive oil?

Since I have been using il circolo extra virgin olive oil, I have really come to appreciate how fresh olive oil tastes. Unfortunately, olive oil does not get better the longer you store it. I was wondering how long olive oil stays fresh. In other words, how long can olive oil be kept. The most direct answer can be found on the label. The best-before date on the packaging is a good indication of how long you can keep your olive oil. Usually, olive oil has a shelf life of 1 to 3 years after bottling – that is, when the oil goes from the barrel into the bottle. But actually, olive oil never becomes unhealthy, although it can ruin your dish if it is too old.
The shelf life depends mainly on the conditions under which the oil is stored, and on the type of olive oil. The expiry date on the label is therefore not the only thing to rely on. By paying attention to a number of things you can enjoy your olive oil longer.

Longer shelf life by storing olive oil in the right way

Light, temperature (too high, too low or fluctuating) and oxygen influence the shelf life of olive oil.

  • At temperatures higher than 21 degrees Celsius the quality of olive oil will deteriorate faster. So, don’t put your olive oil next to the stove or on the  hood – no matter how convenient it is. The fridge is also not a good place to keep olive oil. The cold (< 14 degrees Celsius) makes the olive oil thicker and cloudy, and can cause white flakes in the oil. This has no direct influence on the quality of the oil. As soon as the olive oil has returned to room temperature, you can simply use it.
  • Another culprit is light. That is why good olive oil usually comes in a dark bottle. In a transparent bottle the oil is less protected from light and this drastically reduces the lifespan of the olive oil. You can be careful not to store olive oil near the kitchen window or on a sunny countertop. Olive oil keeps best in a dark and cool place such as a cupboard or a cellar.
  • Oxygen is perhaps the most important cause of rapid deterioration as it triggers the oxidation process of olive oil. Oxidation plays a part in making olive oil rancid, affecting both its taste and smell. Make sure you always store olive oil tightly closed.

Shelf life also differs per olive oil.

Not all olive oils have the same shelf life. The antioxidant content, which is measured by the amount of polyphenols, also varies greatly from one oil to another, sometimes being as much as two to three times higher. Polyphenols are not only beneficial to health but also contribute to the shelf life of olive oil. So the more polyphenols, the longer the olive oil will keep.

Olive oil filtered or unfiltered Shelf life when stored in a cool and dry place Shelf life after extensive exposure to light, high temperature or air
Unfiltered olive oil, like Olio Nuovo or Novello 3 to 6 months
Filtered olive oil, low polyphenol  1 to 2 year 6 -12 months
Filtered olive oil, high polyphenol  2 to 3 year 6 months

Il circolo produces only extra virgin olive oil with a high percentage of polyphenols. That is the best quality olive oil. And that is reflected in the shelf life of our product: if kept cool and dry, it will keep for 3 years.

The impact of packaging on the shelf life of olive oil

Olive oil is available in glass (bottle), tin, plastic or Bag in Box (BiB). Today, all packaging complies with the regulations. However, depending on the expected consumption of olive oil, some packaging is more advisable than others. If you wish to store the olive oil for a longer period of time under the right conditions (dark and cool) then we recommend the tin, dark glass or BiB.
The BiB has long been used to package wine, but it is also becoming increasingly popular for olive oil. This has to do with the sustainable advantages of this packaging material: it ensures a longer shelf life and is environmentally friendly.
For those not yet familiar with it: the BiB consists of an aluminium bag in a cardboard box. Before use, the tap must be removed from the cardboard box. The tap is designed in such a way that no air can reach the olive oil during tapping and storage. This allows the olive oil to be stored for longer than in an opened bottle or can. Moreover, it is an attractive sustainable alternative to glass, cans and plastic, because the packaging is less heavy, less packaging material is needed per litre of olive oil, it can be stacked efficiently and is therefore more economical in terms of transport costs. Also il circolo extra virgin olive oil is available in BiB of 3 litres and 5 litres.

In Sicily, we also see olive oil in plastic bottles or containers. It is a cheap solution which is particularly suitable if the olive oil is consumed quickly. Perhaps even more applicable for plastic bottles, the olive oil must be stored properly, i.e. not exposed to high temperatures and protected from daylight and artificial light.

What can you do with olive oil that is past its expiry date?

Okay, so you have a bottle of olive oil that is over date. Now don’t rush to throwing your olive oil in the trash. Let’s take it step by step to see if that is really necessary.

Step 1:

You now know that the expiry date on the label is more of an indication, and that other factors also play a role in determining the shelf life of olive oil. As long as olive oil is stored in a cool and dark place and little or no oxygen gets to it, it has a long shelf life. Although it is said that the taste of olive oil deteriorates noticeably after about two years (after bottling), this is mainly true of poorer quality oils. Extra-virgin olive oil with a very low free fatty acid content hardly changes in taste as time goes by.
In the case of il circolo olive oil, for example, you can still clearly taste the fruity aroma and the strong flavour even in earlier harvest years. In Sicily, it is even customary to use olive oil from different harvest years. Some vintages are so good that you cannot get enough of them. Often the older vintages are used for baking and roasting and the newer oil as a flavouring in dishes and salads.

Step 2:

How can you tell if the olive oil has gone bad? It can happen that olive oil goes bad. For example, if it is not stored properly or if refillable bottles/canisters are used. If they are not cleaned properly or if old oil is continually replenished with new oil, it can also quickly become rancid.
There is only one way to tell if olive oil has gone rancid: Trust your own senses. If you know what good olive oil tastes like, you can smell and taste it when it has gone stale or rancid. It smells like old, overused frying oil. Not only are the smell and taste affected but little remains of the good qualities of the olive oil.

Step 3:

What to do with rancid, old olive oil? Rancid olive oil can no longer be used for consumption. As with deep-frying fat, you should not flush (leftover) olive oil down the sink or toilet. This can cause blockages. Olive oil in packaging may be disposed of with residual waste. This also applies to leftover olive oil from the pan. Wipe it out with a piece of kitchen towel and throw it in the rubbish.
Throwing away olive oil is a sin, according to us anyway. Hopefully, this will not happen too often. But if you come across olive oil that is really not good for consumption any more, remember that it can be recycled. You can take old olive oil to a designated collection point for recycling. Together with other oils and fat it will be worked up to biofuel.

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