Tag Archives: cannabis safety

CannaGrow: Education on the Science of Cultivation

By Aaron G. Biros
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The CannaGrow Conference & Expo, held in San Diego on May 7th and 8th, educated attendees on the science of cannabis cultivation. The conference brought subject matter experts from around the country to discuss cannabis breeding and genetics, soil science and cultivation facility design.rsz_img_5038

Discussions at the conference delved deep into the science behind growing while providing some expert advice. Drew Plebani, chief executive officer of Commercial Cultivator, Inc., gave a comprehensive review of soil ecology and how understanding soil fertility is crucial to successfully growing consistent cannabis. “Soil fertility is measured by laboratories in terms of soil minerals, plant-available nutrients, percent of organic materials, pH levels and most importantly the balance of the soil’s chemical makeup,” says Plebani. “There is no silver bullet in soil ecology; increasing your soil fertility comes down to understanding the composition of soil with analytical testing.” Plebani went on to add that soil systems for cannabis need to be slightly fungal-dominant in developing an endomycorrhizal system, which is optimal for cannabis plant growth.

Plebani notes that growth and viability are reliant on maximum root mass.
Plebani notes that growth and viability are reliant on maximum root mass.

Tom Lauerman, colloquially known as Farmer Tom and founder of Farmer Tom Organics, kicked off the conference with an introduction to cultivation techniques. Lauerman also delved into his experience working with federal agencies in conducting the first ever health hazard evaluation (HHE) for cannabis with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Through the HHE program, NIOSH responds to requests for evaluations of workplace health hazards, which are then enforced by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Lauerman worked with those federal agencies, allowing them to tour his cultivation facilities to perform an HHE for cannabis processing worker safety. “I was honored to introduce those federal agencies to cannabis and I think this is a great step toward normalizing cannabis by getting the federal government involved on the ground level,” says Lauerman. Through the presentation, Lauerman emphasized the importance of working with NIOSH and OSHA to show federal agencies how the cannabis production industry emerged from the black market, branding itself with a sense of legitimacy.

Attendees flocked to Jacques and his team after the presentation to meet them.
Attendees flocked to Jacques and his team after the presentation to meet them.

Adam Jacques, award-winning cultivator and owner of Grower’s Guild Gardens, discussed his success in breeding CBD-dominant strains and producing customized whole-plant extractions for specific patients’ needs. “I find higher percentages of CBD in plants harvested slightly earlier than you would for a high-THC strain,” says Jacques. “Using closed-loop carbon dioxide extraction equipment, we can use multiple strains to homogenize an oil dialed in for each patient’s specific needs.” As a huge proponent of the Entourage Effect, Jacques stressed the importance of full plant extraction using fractionation with carbon dioxide. He also stressed the importance of analytical testing at every step during processing.

Hildenbrand discussing some of the lesser-known terpenoids yet to be studied.
Hildenbrand discussing some of the lesser-known terpenoids yet to be studied.

Zacariah Hildenbrand, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at C4 Laboratories, provided the 30,000-foot view of the science behind compounds in cannabis, their interactions and his research. With the help of their DEA license, he started the C4 Cannabinomics Collaborative, where they are working with Dr. Kevin Schug at the University of Texas-Arlington to screen various cannabis strains to discover new molecules and characterize their structure. “Secondarily, we are using gene expression profiles and analysis to understand the human physiological response and the mechanism through which they elicit that response,” says Hildenbrand. “As this research evolves, we should look to epigenetics and understanding how genes are expressed.” His collaborative effort uses Shimadzu’s Vacuum Ultraviolet Spectroscopy (VUV), and they use the only VUV instrument in an academic laboratory in the United States. “Pharmaceuticals are supposed to be a targeted therapy and that is where we need to go with cannabis,” says Hildenbrand. Him and his team at C4 Laboratories want to work on the discovery of new terpenes and analyze their potential benefits, which could be significant research for cannabis medicine.

Other important topics at the conference included facility design and optimization regarding efficient technologies such as LED lighting and integrated pest management.

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Biros' Blog

Ongoing Pesticide Recalls a Sign of Industry Maturity

By Aaron G. Biros
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Regulators in Colorado last week announced another massive recall of cannabis found to contain banned pesticides. 92 batches of cannabis plants, with roughly a dozen plants in each batch, were recalled for using the product, Guardian, on the plants. The culprit was an ingredient in the product called avermectin, a pesticide listed as a ‘bad actor’ by the Pesticide Action Network.

The recall follows dozens of others in Colorado this year, all because tests found pesticides present in cannabis samples. When news spreads of cannabis recalls due to concerns of pesticide contamination, it paints a picture of worrisome problems rampant in the cannabis industry. Alarmists say continued recalls could have disastrous consequences like stalling legalization initiatives or slowing growth in new markets.

In the food industry, recalls are a part of routine business. The FDA created the Reportable Food Registry (RFR) as a way to prevent the shipment of contaminated food products into the supply. In 2015, Chipotle Mexican Grill made news when it sickened dozens with an E.coli outbreak and issued extensive recalls as a result. After that happened, the company reevaluated its practices and improved their food safety program to prevent future outbreaks.

When a recall occurs, it should prompt a surge in inquiries, responses and audits that need to be addressed and reviewed carefully. Ample proactive planning including HACCP, comprehensive risk analysis and validation studies or documents help prevent recalls from occurring in the first place. When recalls do happen, reactive measures should occur immediately with a strategy in place to deal with all of the regulatory compliance, quality, safety and branding ramifications.

When a recall occurs in the food industry, it generally means that there was a foodborne illness outbreak, followed by a reactive measure. That reactive measure, the recall itself, is what prevents foodborne illness outbreaks from growing or becoming an epidemic. Recalls in the food industry show that regulators are concerned about contamination and taking action to safeguard public health. In other words, when a recall occurs, it means that someone is watching.

I think recalls in the cannabis industry are a sign of the marketplace growing up. Recalls can be seen as a good thing, a sign of proper safety measures in place to prevent further contamination. Reporting recalls or failures means that professionals are beginning to pay attention to the safety and quality of processes in place at cannabis production facilities. Looking at the long-term sustainability of the cannabis industry, keeping quality and safety at top of mind will help businesses self-legitimize. Those not striving for the safest practices and the best quality will lose their ability to compete as the market continues to grow. Recalls can tarnish a company’s brand, but they also indicate that the industry has reached a point of legitimacy. Cannabis is now out of the closet and under a microscope.

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Pesticide Recalls an Ongoing Issue for Colorado

By Aaron G. Biros
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In the wake of investigations this summer in Oregon and Colorado, which found that numerous marijuana products contain levels of illegal pesticides, state regulators, laboratories, manufacturers, and cultivators alike are acting fast to minimize risks to consumers and patients. The largest recall ever to occur in the cannabis industry happened on October 30, when two companies in Denver found potential pesticide contamination in tens of thousands of packages of edible cannabis products.

As of now, it is difficult to find information available on pesticide use and flowering, its effect on the body through combustion and inhalation, and its effect on medical patients with already weakened immune systems. Research suggests up to 69.5% of pesticide residues can stay in marijuana smoke. Of course, there is a need for more research, but it is safe to accept that pesticides already banned for use on foods by the USDA or state departments should not be allowed in cannabis production.

In Colorado, “Nearly six months after the city of Denver began a crackdown on unapproved pesticides in marijuana products, a spot-check by The Denver Post found that the chemicals were still being sold to consumers.” This presents a major problem to an industry still trying to change public opinion for wider legalization efforts.

The Oregonian and OregonLive investigation found pesticides in most of the 10 marijuana concentrates that were screened. “Many of the pesticides detected aren’t regulated by Oregon’s medical marijuana rules, which means products that contain these chemicals still can be sold.”

While state regulations on pesticide use continue to get hammered out, the U.S. Department of Agriculture along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently working on identifying pesticides that might be safe to use on cannabis. That guidance is crucial for any industry in order to establish safe levels of pesticides allowed, as well as which pesticides are more dangerous to the consumer than others.

Just last week, two of the largest recalls in the cannabis industry occurred in Colorado due to potential pesticide contamination. According to The Denver Post, as many as 30,000 packages of edibles produced by two companies were recalled by the Denver Department of Health.

Alex Garton, a cultivator in Michigan, agrees with many proponents of organic methods, citing the need for close management of the plants without pesticides. “The best way to avoid pests is to keep the grow room clean,” he says. “Mites will come and go, as will temperature and humidity issues, but without using pesticides, there are some safe, natural products that are very effective.”

“I treat my plants with natural compounds that are permitted under the federal government’s guidance for use in vegetable applications for human consumption,” Garton adds. “Never use anything remotely resembling a pesticide on flowers particularly when maturing and in the flowering process.”

Adam Jacques, master cultivator and owner of The Growers Guild in Eugene, Oregon, agrees with the sentiment of caution shared by many in the industry. “I would say, nationwide, there needs to be a more in depth look at pesticides, even organic strawberries can have [the pesticide] Eagle 20 on them,” he says. “With cannabis, we can’t scrub and wash pesticides off like fruit that you take off the vine, and there is a real lack of research on residues and combustion.”

Jacques tests all of his cannabis products for pesticides, molds, microbials and pathogens along with potency profiles, most of which is not required by the state. Growers should take lessons from Garton and Jacques by forgoing any application of pesticides until there is more confident state-level guidance on the dangers associated with pesticides on cannabis.

Cannabis Coaching & Compliance

Keep It Professional~Food Safety Musts!

By Maureen McNamara
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There are many aspects to the cannabis industry that demand an owner’s attention: Compliance, great products, great people, great location, finances…. So is a focus on food safety a priority?

Yes, yes it is. And not just for infused products.

For starters, in some states like Colorado, it is required. In other states it will be required in the foreseeable future, and generally speaking, it is a vital component for a professional industry that continues to show the community that you are committed to creating safe products.

Have you ever had a foodborne illness? I’m going to assume you just nodded your head or thought yes. Check out this statistic: according to the Center for Disease Control there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses (and 3000 people die) every year in the United States.

A quick reminder about the typical symptoms of foodborne illness: vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and nausea. Experiences we would all like to avoid.

What I know for sure… you do not want your product or your company to ever be associated with making people sick.

Take into account that for medical marijuana patients, they may already have compromised immune systems. This puts them at an even greater risk for foodborne illness. We need to ask questions like “Are my employees doing everything possible to ensure a safe, wholesome product?”

A properly trained staff is a critical necessity in the cannabis industry. Whether it is currently required or not, your commitment to safety for your patients and consumers show that you care and are committed to high standards. Additionally, you may avoid fines, closures and recalls. These all create a drain on your finances… as well as your reputation.

The FDA has identified five key factors that often contribute to outbreaks:

  • Purchasing Food from Unsafe Sources
  • Improper Holding Time and Temperature
  • Inadequate Cooking
  • Improper Cleaning and Sanitizing
  • Poor Personal Hygiene

Safe Purchasing:

Be aware of starting with high quality ingredients. Ask your suppliers questions about their inspections and quality controls. If possible conduct a tour of the supplier facilities to verify they meet necessary standards. Are you impressed with their food safety standards and protocols?

Avoiding Time & Temperature Abuse:

Bacteria needs an ideal temperature (between 41°-135°) and a bit of time (4+hours) to grow to harmful levels. Keep your cold food cold and cool your heated foods quickly.

Inadequate Cooking:

If you are infusing oil, I strongly encourage you to work with your local health department for a procedure that will ensure the oil is cooked to a safe temperature (while not interfering with your chemistry) to eliminate potential pathogens or microbials.

Cleaning and Sanitizing:

Microorganisms grow well at room temperature. Cleaning and sanitizing is important to ensure microorganisms are reduced or eliminated. Certainly all of your food contact surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized whenever you change tasks and at least every four hours. This is not just for making infused products, please keep this in mind at the retail level as well. Think of how many hands (both employees and customers) may be touching the product containers. Avoid cross-contamination by cleaning and santizing thoroughly and often.

Personal Hygiene:

In each food safety class I have facilitated in the last 18 years, everyone admits they or their team could improve personal hygiene. Shout out to any bearded folks… did you know that the FDA food code requires facial hair that is 1-inch or longer to be restrained? Got a beard net?

Because most of the foods manufactured in the cannabis industry are “ready to eat” foods, great personal hygiene and frequent, thorough handwashing is essential. The FDA reccommends a 20 second handwashing procudure with hot water (≥100°), a soapy lather, vigoursly rubbing hands for at least 10-15 seconds, rinsing well and using a single-use towel to dry your hands.

I know… it sounds very basic. However, when I observe people washing their hands it is often for less than 8-seconds. Not only is handwashing a great way to stay healthy ourselves, it is a key way to ensure your products are safe and not putting public health in jeopardy.

I’ll throw down a challenge for you! This month: focus with your team on personal hygiene and hand washing. Whether you are growing, infusing or selling this is a vital component for a professional, responsible industry. When it comes down to it, you make things that go right into your customer’s and patient’s bodies. Create those products on a foundation of food safety and you will more easily create a thriving business.

Cannabis Trainers provides ServSafe® food safety training for edible makers and Sell-SMaRT™ the responsible cannabis vendor program for sellers. (www.CannabisTrainers.com)

We would love to hear from you! Comment below and let us know what your team does to ensure you are making and selling safe products.

Cannabis Coaching & Compliance

Food Safety Training: A Story of Poo

By Maureen McNamara
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Cannabis Trainers: A Story of Poo

Are you an excellent hand washer?
Almost everyone answers this question with a big “YES!”

The reality? Researchers let us know that most people don’t wash their hands thoroughly or frequently. Especially men… sorry fellas!

I know, I understand that this sounds super basic. However, it is an integral part of ensuring that your business doesn’t contribute to any of the millions of food borne illnesses each year in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 48 million cases of food borne illness, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3000 deaths resulting from food borne illness. 

For us in the cannabis industry, many of our products are known as “ready to eat foods” or, foods that do not require heating prior to eating. This allows us to keep things a bit simpler for our customers and patients. The most prevalent foodborne illness is the norovirus, which is linked to ready to eat foods and poor personal hygiene factors.

Keep in mind that even though we [typically] are not working with high risk foods (think: poultry, fish, beef etc.), we may very likely be creating food for a high risk population (patients with compromised immune systems), and great personal hygiene is imperative.

  1. Is your team using gloves or utensils to handle all ready to eat foods?

  2. Do you wash hands prior to gloving?

  3. Are hands being washed with at least 100*F water for 20 seconds?

One tool that I like to use in our food safety classes to illustrate the point that hand washing is typically done quickly and poorly is GloGerm. This highlights where the areas for improvement are for each person with hand washing.

I am often asked about hand sanitizer. For all you busy people out there… listen up! Hand sanitizer does NOT replace hand washing ever.
Seriously- never. Here is my analogy for you:
Hand sanitizer on dirty hands is like whipped cream on poop. You’re welcome for that mental image.

Frequent, thorough hand washing is essential to ensure that your team creates food safely and with integrity. The truth is, fecal contamination is a big deal. And although we may all claim that we are great hand washers, there is often room for improvement.

Ready to learn more? Join us for one of our ServSafe Food Handler courses that we customize to the specific needs of the cannabis industry.

www.CannabisTrainers.com

hemp-infused tea

Hemp-Infused Beverages: FDA Compliance and the Cannabis Industry

By Aaron G. Biros
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hemp-infused tea

With cannabis-infused edibles gaining a bigger market share in 2014 (See the marijuana edibles regulatory update here), it comes as no surprise that cannabis-infused beverages are growing in popularity. Some of these beverage manufacturers operate in a very interesting legal environment because of the differentiation between compounds found in hemp and marijuana, two different varieties of cannabis.

“Under federal legislation, there is an exemption for hemp and as long as we process our CBD (Cannabidiol) molecules from the hemp plant, we are allowed to sell our products federally,” says Chris Bunka, CEO of Lexaria, a company that makes a hemp-infused tea.

hemp-infused tea
Lexaria’s ViPova black tea infused with CBD oil made from industrial hemp

A number of scientific research studies have suggested that the compound CBD has medical properties that can help mitigate symptoms like inflammation, anxiety, chronic pain, and much more.

Because of the federal exemption for hemp, Lexaria can enjoy interstate commerce and other freedoms that manufacturers using marijuana flowers do not, such as access to banking services. Dried marijuana flowers contain the psychoactive compound, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This compound is responsible for the regulatory and legal schism between the states that have legalized marijuana and the federal government, which still considers it to be a Schedule I narcotic.

Much unlike a number of marijuana edibles manufacturers operating in states where marijuana is currently legal, hemp-infused beverage manufacturers operate in full FDA compliance.

Michael Christopher, founder of Loft Tea, is working with a laboratory and bottler that are both 100% FDA compliant. “We definitely operate up to and abide by all FDA best practices with our laboratory and as far as producing and handling material we use best manufacturing practices and processes,” says Christopher.

“We have to partner with a bottler and laboratory who have the reputation to build trust with our brand as an industry leader in safety and quality,” says Christopher. “Until the FDA gives us complete guidelines on cannabis-infused products, we will continue to operate above and beyond best manufacturing practices with our infusions.”

Because these manufacturers view their hemp tea as a health and wellness product, it is only a matter of time before we see these types of products lining the shelves of health-food stores nationally. However, before this happens, an FDA regulatory framework specific to hemp-infused products is needed to address this growing industry. 

“The hemp infusion industry has a lot of opportunity when presented in the right framework,” Christopher says. “There is still education needed in the marketplace to get it to the point where it will be on the shelves in stores like Whole Foods.”

Until that time comes, expect to see a steady growth of interest and inquiry from consumers, manufacturers, and regulators alike in the cannabis industry, whether federally legal or not.