Just weeks ago, the first voluntary cannabis product recall occurred under California’s new regulations. According to an article on MJBizDaily.com by John Schroyer, the recall for their vaporizer cartridges affects almost 100 dispensaries in California.
Bloom Brands, the company issuing the voluntary recall, mentioned in a press release that batches sold between July 1-19, 2018 were contaminated with the pesticide Myclobutanil and therefore does not meet the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) standards. Below is an excerpt from the press release:
We are working closely with the BCC to remedy this issue and expect clean, compliant products to be back on shelves in three weeks…. At Bloom, we are continuing to work with the BCC and other partners to ensure that the space is properly regulated and safe for all customers. Transparency and safety remain our top concerns and we will provide updates as additional information becomes available. We apologize for any concern or inconvenience this serious misstep has caused. We thank you for your continued trust and confidence in our products.
Then, just days later, Lowell Herb Co. issued a voluntary recall on their pre-rolls. First reported by MJBizDaily.com, it appears the products initially passed multiple lab tests and was cleared for retail sales. Weeks after the batch passed tests, a laboratory reversed its decision, saying the products failed to pass the state’s testing standards. The contaminant in question was not mentioned.
Many seem to think these recalls are a product of the BCC’s unrealistic expectations in their lab testing rules. In a Facebook post days ago, the California Cannabis Industry Association called out the BCC for their unworkable rules. “The BCC has set testing standards that are nearly impossible to meet,” reads the post. “As a result recalls like this will be the norm and the industry will suffer a bottleneck in supply. Testing standards need to be realistic, not impossible.”
Can the laboratory accurately analyze sample products like my sample?
Can the laboratory reproduce the sample results for my type of sample?
Now let’s discuss the most important QC test that will protect your crop and business. That QC sample is the Matrix Sample. In the last article in this series, you were introduced to many QC samples. The Matrix Sample and Duplicate were some of them. Take a look back at Part 3 to familiarize yourself with the definitions.
The key factors of these QC sample types are:
Your sample is used to determine if the analysis used by the laboratory can extract the analyte that is being reported back to you. This is performed by the following steps:
Your sample is analyzed by the laboratory as received.
Then a sub-sample of your sample is spiked with a known concentration of the analyte you are looking for (e.g. pesticides, bacteria, organic chemicals, etc.).
The difference between the sample with and without a spike indicates whether the laboratory can even find the analyte of concern and whether the percent recovery is acceptable.
Examples of failures are from my experiences:
Laboratory 1 spiked a known amount of a pesticide into a wastewater matrix. (e.g. Silver into final treatment process water). The laboratory failed to recover any of the spiked silver. Therefore the laboratory results for these types of sample were not reporting any silver, but silver may be present. This is where laboratory results would be false negatives and the laboratory method may not work on the matrix (your sample) correctly. .
Laboratory 2 ran an analysis for a toxic compound (e.g. Cyanide in final waste treatment discharge). A known amount of cyanide was spiked into a matrix sample and 4 times the actual concentration of that cyanide spike was recovered. This is where laboratory results would be called false positives and the laboratory method may not work on the matrix (your sample) correctly.
Can the laboratory reproduce the results they reported to you?
The laboratory needs to repeat the matrix spike analysis to provide duplicate results. Then a comparison of the results from the first matrix spike with its duplicate results will show if the laboratory can duplicate their test on your sample.
If the original matrix spike result and the duplicate show good agreement (e.g. 20% relative percent difference or lower). Then you can be relatively sure that the result you obtained from the laboratory is true.
But, if the original matrix spike result and the duplicate do not show good agreement (e.g. greater than 20% relative percent difference). Then you can be sure that the result you obtained from the laboratory is not true and you should question the laboratory’s competence.
Now, the question is why a laboratory would not perform these matrix spike and duplicate QC samples? Well, the following may apply:
These matrix samples take too much time.
These matrix samples add a cost that the laboratory cannot recover.
These matrix samples are too difficult for the laboratory staff to perform.
Most importantly: Matrix samples show the laboratory cannot perform the analyses correctly on the matrix.
So, what types of cannabis matrices are out there? Some examples include bud, leaf, oils, extracts and edibles. Those are some of the matrices and each one has their own testing requirements. So, what should you require from your laboratory?
The laboratory must use your sample for both a matrix spike and a duplicate QC sample.
The percent recovery of both the matrix spike and the duplicate will be between 80% and 120%. If either of the QC samples fail, then you should be notified immediately and the samples reanalyzed.
If the relative percent difference between the matrix spike and the duplicate will be 20% or less. If the QC samples fail, then you should be notified immediately and the samples should be reanalyzed.
The impact of questionable laboratory results on your business with failing or absent matrix spike and the duplicate QC samples can be prevented. It is paramount that you hold the laboratory responsible to produce results that are representative of your sample matrix and that are true.
The next article will focus on how your business will develop a quality plan for your laboratory service provider with a specific focus on the California Code Of Regulations, Title 16, Division 42. Bureau Of Cannabis Control requirements.
I worked for about 18 years as a company employee in various levels from entry-level engineer to senior director. Since then I have spent over a decade as a consultant in the life science industry as the founder of Sebald Consulting. Presently, I also use consultants as CEO of GxPready!, a web based CMMS software company. Based on this experience, I have put together a top 5 list of things you can do to get the most value when using consultants:
1. Recognize when a project requires a consultant
There can be several reasons a project may benefit from having a consultant which may include bringing a new skill set, industry experience or an outside perspective to bear on a project that is not available otherwise.
Provide clear guidance as to what the task and deliverables are on an ongoing basis.Also, there are occasions when resources are already stretched and you need short-term support to get through an intensive segment of a project, but the work may not be enough to justify additional longer-term resources.
In any of these cases, filling the gap internally can be difficult and time consuming. A consultant can be a great solution. Even if you don’t plan to use a consultant for the project, it may be to your benefit to have a consultant perform a “gap assessment” to help you to identify areas which require improvement to meet compliance requirements or best practice guidelines. This is often done to prepare for audits, for example.
2. Vet the consultant to get a good match
Contact potential consultants to determine if they have the set of skills you are looking for and if they fit within the culture of your organization. Talk to the actual consultant you will be working with before bringing them on. Review the consulting contract carefully to make sure the terms are mutually acceptable. Often consultants have some flexibility to accommodate different project situations.
One advantage to using consultants is that you don’t have a long commitment so even after you vet them with interviews, you can work on small projects and gauge the results. Some consulting companies are very formal and others are less so, for example. A good fit is better for both parties. It’s not just the competence, but the culture and personal fit with your team.
3. Provide the consultant with appropriate guidance and resources
Help the consultant give you the best results possible by providing access to the resources (personnel, information, documents, systems, etc.) to allow the consultant to perform the tasks.
Provide clear guidance as to what the task and deliverables are on an ongoing basis.
Alternatively, allow the consultant to manage the project and reach out as necessary. Any guidance and resources you can provide the consultant will increase the effectiveness and help control your costs on the project.
If you don’t know exactly what needs to be done (“That’s why I hired a consultant!”) then have the consultant put together a list for you based on some general guidance and then work from that list to get your job completed.
4. Track progress with appropriate level of detail
If you have vetted and hired a consultant, chances are they are going to put in their best effort to meet your requirements. Nonetheless, it is good practice to have a system in place to track hours/costs.
Whether it is weekly reporting, or based on milestones and project updates, this helps to avoid any misunderstandings and provides opportunities for communication of project issues in addition to whatever project updates may be scheduled.
You want your team of consultants and employees to be able to work as well as possible together.Recognize that you can go overboard in this area, working against yourself and the project, if the tracking is so detailed that it takes excessive resources to document. It is definitely possible to inadvertently generate more hours (and expense) by managing time in too much detail. If the concern is high and heavy management is required, perhaps that indicates the consultant is not the best match for this project.
Generally, you can find a good balance with a simple up-front chat with the consultant to review your expectations, and for larger projects it is often formalized in the contract.
5. Recognize if it’s not a good fit
There are many consultants and clients out there. Inevitably, there are times when, despite best intentions, the consultant/client mix isn’t working out. Make sure the contract allows for management of this situation. Can you cancel the contract with reasonable notice? Is there a mechanism for being able to replace members of the team that aren’t working out?
You want your team of consultants and employees to be able to work as well as possible together. If that’s not happening, recognize it and make adjustments as necessary. But don’t lose the contact information. A consultant that doesn’t work out today may be just right for your next project!
Following the above can improve your chances of success with consultants you may hire and allow you to build a solid set of resources you can call on from time to time as things change in your company. Consultants can fill a vital role for tasks requiring specialized skills or short-term projects where a full time hire is not practical.
At the National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) Cannabis Business Summit and Expo last week there was a presentation titled, “Raising the Standard for Dispensary Education: Building a Better Breed of Budtender.” Speakers included Adam Cole, learning and development specialist at Native Roots Dispensaries and Dr. Aseem Sappal, provost and dean of faculty at Oaksterdam University. Nancy Whiteman, owner of Wana Brands, was the moderator. Let’s look at some of the ways they have standardized their process in cannabis retail education.Health effects achieved in one patient are not always replicated for every patient. This is true of all medicine.
The standard education module at Native Roots (20 retail locations throughout Colorado, and were awarded licenses in Manitoba, Canada) for onboarding a budtender includes laws and compliance, ID checking and sales limits, customer service and physical effects. Oaksterdam University provides cannabis education and focuses on botany, introduction to the endocannabinoid system, bioavailability, CBD, and edibles vs. smoking as a delivery mechanism. In addition to the already mentioned classes, Wana Brands also teaches the concept of sustained release and capsules (due to product specificity). The Native Roots educational program contains continuing education in the history of cannabis, the endocannabinoid system, methods of consumption, phytocannabinoids and terpenes. For those of you in medical professions beginning your cannabis education, these modules provide a great outline to launch your own learning and development program.
How can dispensaries integrate the medical profession at the point of distribution?The presentation highlighted the legal aspects of providing cannabis information and cannabis products. A licensed medical professional oversees all educational content and everything is run through a legal department. It is important that all cannabis providers use language that offers no definitive medical outcomes. Health effects achieved in one patient are not always replicated for every patient. This is true of all medicine. At Native Roots Dispensary, they address symptoms not diseases. They have specific language to avoid giving medical advice. For good reason, there is a state regulatory body called the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) that oversees dispensaries and their adherence to the “no medical advice” decree, along with a slew of other regulatory compliance issues.
Dispensaries offer careful symptom-based product recommendations to many types of consumers. How can dispensaries integrate the medical profession at the point of distribution? Native Roots has partnerships with doctors and the Rocky Mountain Cancer Institute. Additionally, the CEO of Wana Brands mentioned the use of medical kiosks in some dispensaries. My question to Adam Cole was, “Would you like to see trained cannabis nurses on staff or on board as a consultant in dispensaries to deal with patients and have the budtenders service the customer?” His answer: “Absolutely.”
Save the Dates for the 6th Annual Food Safety Consortium conference in Schaumburg, IL, a summit of Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) industry experts and government officials. The 2018 Food Safety Consortium will have a cannabis track this year where topics will include: regulations, standards, cannabis food safety & quality and much more.
Water is essential for life and it is an important part of agriculture and food manufacturing. Water has many uses in the cannabis industry. Among the most common uses are irrigation, ingredient/product processing and cleaning processes.
Water can be the carrier of pathogenic microorganisms and chemicals that can be transferred to food through agriculture and manufacturing practices. Poor quality water may have a negative impact in food processing and potentially on public health. Therefore, development and implementation of risk management plans that ensure the safety of water through the controls of hazardous constituents is essential to maintain the safety of agricultural and manufactured food or cannabis products.
Chemicals can enter the water stream through several sources such as storm water, direct discharge into fields and city water treatment plans.Although there no current regulations regarding the water used in cannabis cultivation and processing, it is highly recommended that the industry uses potable water as standard practice. Potable water is water that is safe for drinking and therefore for use in agriculture and food manufacturing. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the standards for water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA.)The regulations include the mandatory levels defined as Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for each contaminant that can be found in water. Federal Drinking Water Standards are organized into six groups: Microorganisms, Disinfectants, Disinfection Byproducts, Inorganic Chemicals, Organic Chemicals and Radionuclides. The agriculture and food manufacturing industry use the SDWA as a standard to determine water potability. Therefore, water testing forms part of their routine programs. Sampling points for water sources are identified, and samples are taken and sent to a reputable laboratory to determine its quality and safety.
Determining the safety of the water through microbiological testing is very important. Pathogens of concern such as E. coli, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium parvum and Cyclospora sp. can be transmitted to food through water. These pathogens have been known to be lethal to humans, especially when a consumer’s immune system is compromised (e.g. cancer patients, elderly, etc.) If your water source is well, the local state agency may come to your facility and test the water regularly for indicator organisms such as coliforms. If the levels are outside the limit, a warning will be given to your company. If your water source is the city, regular testing at the facility for indicator microorganisms is recommended. In each case, an action plan must be in place if results are unfavorable to ensure that only potable water is used in the operations.
Chemical Testing (Disinfectants, Disinfection Byproducts, Inorganic Chemicals, Organic Chemicals and Radionuclides)
Chemicals can enter the water stream through several sources such as storm water, direct discharge into fields and city water treatment plans. Although, there are several regulations governing the discharge of chemicals into storm water, fields and even into city water treatment plants, it is important that you test your incoming water for these chemicals on a regular basis. In addition, it is important that a risk assessment of your water source is conducted since you may be at a higher risk for certain components that require testing. For example, if your manufacturing facility is near an agricultural area, pesticides may enter the surface water (lakes, streams, and rivers) or the aquifer (ground water) through absorption into the ground or pollution. In this case, you may be at higher risk for Tetrahalomethanes (THMs), which are a byproduct of pesticides. Therefore, you should increase the testing for these components in comparison to other less likely to occur chemicals in this situation. Also, if your agriculture operation is near a nuclear plant, then radionuclides may become a higher risk than any of the other components.
Finally, in addition to the implementation of risk management plans to ensure the safety of water, it is highly recommended that companies working in food manufacturing facilities become familiar with their water source to ensure adequate supply to carry on their operations, which is one of the requirements under the 21 CFR 117. Subpart B – Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) for food manufacturers under the Preventive Controls for Human Foods Rule that was enacted under the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2015. Also, adequate supply is part of the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) The EPA has created a program that allows you to conduct a risk assessment on your water source. This program is called Source Water Protection. It has six steps that are followed to develop a plan that not only protect sourcing but also ensures safety by identifying threats for the water supply. These six steps are:
Delineate the Source Water Protection Area (SWPA): In this step a map of the land area that could contribute pollutants to the water is created. States are required to create these maps, so you should check with local and/or state offices for these.
Inventory known and potential sources of contamination: Operations within the area may contribute contaminants into the water source. States usually delineates these operations in their maps as part of their efforts to ensure public safety. Some examples of operations that may contribute to contaminants into the water are: landfill, mining operations, nuclear plants, residential septic systems, golf courses, etc. When looking at these maps, be sure that you verify the identified sources by conducting your own survey. Some agencies may not have the resources to update the maps on a regular basis.
Determine the susceptibility of the Public Water Source (PWS) to contaminate sources or activities within the SWPA: This is basically a risk assessment. In here you will characterize the risk based on the severity of the threat and the likelihood of the source water contamination. There are risk matrices that are used as tools for this purpose.
Notify the public about threats identified in the contaminant source inventory and what they mean to the PWS: Create a communication plan to make the State and local agencies aware of any findings or accidents in your operation that may lead to contamination of the PWS.
Implement management measures to prevent, reduce or eliminate risks to your water supply: Once risks are characterized, a plan must be developed and implemented to keep risks under control and ensure the safety of your water.
Develop contingency planning strategies that address water supply contamination or service interruption emergencies: OSHA requires you to have an Emergency Preparedness Plan (EPP). This plans outlines what to do in case of an emergency to ensure the safety of the people working in the operation and the continuity of the business. This same approach should be taken when it comes to water supply. The main questions to ask are: a) What would we do if we find out the water has been contaminated? b) What plan is in place to keep the business running while ensure the safety of the products? c) How can we get the operation back up and running on site once the water source is re-stablished?
The main goal of all these programs is having safe water for the operations while keeping continuity of the business in case of water contamination.
Now that governments are legalizing cannabis around the world, the question looms for cannabis businesses seeking legitimacy in the new industry: what safety standards should apply? This question is more difficult as different jurisdictions grapple with defining and implementing legal requirements and struggle to keep up with the pace of growth.
For visionary cannabis business, it makes sense to anticipate requirements – not only from governments, but also from consumers and partners. Most regulations currently focus on security and basic health issues but, in the long-term, the industry that may offer the best model for cannabis businesses isn’t pharmaceuticals, but food. Cannabis (especially edibles) share similar hazards and traceability challenges with food products, so taking the lead from the food industry will be much more applicable and could offer greater benefits.
Companies that achieve the highest and most flexible certification will enjoy a crucial competitive advantage when it comes to winning market share, popularity and consumer trust. Let’s take a quick look at the different options of food safety (and quality) certifications that cannabis businesses may consider. But first, let’s clarify two important definitions that are necessary to understand the food industry.
Basic Concepts from the Food Industry
The first acronym you should be aware of is GFSI, the Global Food Safety Initiative. GFSI is a food industry-driven global collaboration body created to advance food safety. When it comes to understanding GFSI, the important part to note is that certifications recognized by GFSI (like SQF, FSSC 22000, and BRC) are universally accepted. Companies operating under GFSI-recognized certifications open the most doors to the most markets, providing the highest potential for growth. For this reason, cannabis companies should be aware of and seriously consider seeking GFSI certifications
Secondly, many food safety programs are built around Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, or HACCP. While many people may talk about HACCP like it’s a certification in and of itself, it is not actually a certification like the others on this list, but rather a methodology that helps companies systematically identify and control biological, chemical, and physical hazards that may arise during food production, handling, and distribution. Companies that adopt this methodology end up with a HACCP plan, which must then be followed at all times to avoid and address health and safety issues. It’s often required for food businesses and is generally required in most of the world, except where ISO 22000 is more common, primarily in Europe and countries whose primary export market is European. Since HACCP plans are also incorporated into most of the other achievable certifications, developing a HACCP program early will build a strong foundation for higher levels of certification.
Certifications for the Cannabis Industry
Now that we understand the basics of GFSI and HACCP, we can see how the certifications that have been developed by and for the food industry may apply to cannabis companies – and which you should consider necessary for your business.
GMP: Good Manufacturing Practice Certification
GMP (or sometimes cGMP) certification requires that companies abide by a set of good manufacturing processes for food and beverage products, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, dietary supplements and medical devices. Since it really only covers basic sanitation and employee hygiene, it is considered the lowest level of certification in the industry. It is not recognized by GFSI, but GFSI does require all the standard benchmarks of a GMP be met before granting GFSI certification.
While GMP certification is often required, it is far below the standard that should be upheld by any serious businesses. It doesn’t cover many of the different types of hazards associated with food production – that I have argued will become increasingly relevant to cannabis producers – and doesn’t provide a systematic approach to identifying and controlling hazards like a HACCP program would. It’s really just about providing the basic procedures and checks to ensure that the facility is clean and that employees aren’t contaminating the products.
Final Verdict: Recommended, but as the bare minimum. GMP is not sufficient on its own to adequately control the risk of recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks, and it limits a company’s market potential because it lacks the GFSI worldwide stamp of approval.
Some companies consider GMP certification a good place to start if you’re on a tight deadline for distribution in markets where only GMP is required by regulators. I would argue that striving for the minimum standards will be costly in the long run. Health, safety and quality standards are the foundations upon which winning companies are built. It’s critical to develop a corporate culture that will lead to GFSI-recognized programs without major organizational overhaul. Start on the right foot and set your sights higher – obtain a certification that will stand the test of time and avoid the pain and risks of trying to change entrenched behaviors.
SQF: Safe Quality Food Program Certification
SQF is my number one recommendation as the best certification for the cannabis industry. One of the most common certifications in North America, SQF is a food safety management system recognized by retailers and consumers alike. It is administered by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and, importantly, recognized by GFSI, which gives companies a huge competitive edge. SQF focuses on the whole supply chain.
SQF was also the first to develop a cannabis program and is currently the leader in this market segment. It is also the scheme that best integrates food safety with quality. Since it is recognized worldwide, SQF provides the greatest leverage to accelerate a company’s growth. Once obtained, products with SQF certification can often jump the queue to enter different regulatory markets.
Final verdict: Highly recommended. A cannabis company with an SQF certification has the greatest advantage because it offers the broadest worldwide reach and keeps companies a step ahead of competitors. It’s also achievable – just this past April, Curaleaf Florida ostensibly became the first cannabis company to achieve SQF certification. It is tough, but fair and practical.
Other Certification Standards
SQF is the top certification that should be considered by cannabis companies, especially outside of Europe. However, the food industry has several other major types of standards that, at this time, have limited relevance to the cannabis industry today. Let’s take a quick look.
When considering GFSI-recognized programs, the main choice for food companies is between SQF, which we’ve covered, and BRC (the British Retail Consortium Certification). BRC has the most in common with SQF but, while SQF was originally developed for processed foods, BRC was developed in the UK for meat products. Today, they are quite similar, but BRC doesn’t focus quite as much on the quality component as SQF does. While BRC could be a good option, they don’t have a program for cannabis and, thus far, do not appear to be as friendly toward the cannabis industry.The food industry has a lot to offer cannabis companies that are anticipating future regulatory changes and market advantages
Across the pond, there are a few other certification standards that are more common than SQF. One of these is ISO 22000, which is the certification for the food-related standard created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in Europe. It is not recognized by GFSI but is the primary system used in Europe. If your market is exclusively in the EU, it might be a good choice for you in the future. However, to date, there is no indication that any cannabis company has achieved ISO 22000 certification. Some cannabis companies have attained certification for other ISO standards like ISO 9001:2015, which specifies requirements for quality control systems, and ISO/IEC 17025 for laboratory testing. These are generally more relevant for the pharmaceutical industry than food and beverage, but still apply to cannabis.
There is the perception that cannabis is more accepted in EU countries like the Netherlands, but the regulatory attitude to cannabis is complicated. In the Netherlands, for example, cannabis isn’t actually legal – “coffee shops” fall under a toleration policy that doesn’t include regulation. Medical cannabis in the Netherlands is all produced by one supplier and several countries in the EU allow for licensed distribution and import, but not domestic production. Various EU countries are trying to keep up with the legalization trend, however. The Czech Republic, Germany, and others all recently introduced legislation for domestic production of cannabis for medical use. For companies with their eye on the EU, it is crucial to watch which regulatory requirements will be implemented in each market and how.
The last certification standard to mention is the result of a compromise between ISO and the more HACCP oriented programs like SQF. FSSC 22000 (Food Safety System Certification) tries to address the gaps between ISO 22000 and GFSI-recognized certifications by introducing another component called PAS 220. Since it is recognized by GFSI, FSSC 22000 is starting to get more traction in the food industry because it makes products a bit easier to export to the EU. FSSC 22000 satisfies the EU ISO standards but isn’t as closely tied to HACCP. We will be keeping an eye on this one.
The food industry has a lot to offer cannabis companies that are anticipating future regulatory changes and market advantages – but it’s difficult for cannabis companies to understand all the options available and how each apply to their specific products. While markets adjust beyond the preliminary issue of legality, it’s crucial for companies to look forward and comply with safety and quality standards like SQF. Companies who strive for SQF certification (or other GFSI-recognized certifications as they become available) will find themselves far better prepared to seize market share as cannabis markets blossom.
According to a press release, EVIO Inc. announced recently that their Berkeley, California testing lab, C3 Labs, LLC doing business as EVIO Labs, received their ISO 17025 accreditation from Perry Johnson Laboratory Accreditation, Inc. (PJLA). EVIO Inc. acquired C3 Labs in January of this year, but C3 Labs is a well-established cannabis-testing lab that has been serving the Northern California industry since 2015.
The accreditation and announcement were well-timed given the California regulatory changes that came on July 1, essentially requiring all cannabis products be tested for a range of contaminants before sold in a retail setting. The press release states EVIO Labs Berkeley should be well equipped to handle the surge in demand for testing services and is prepared for the new regulations.
According to Ron Russak, vice president of operations at EVIO Labs, they hope these regulations can give producers, retailers and consumers assurance that their products are safe. “EVIO is committed to upholding the highest standards throughout each step of the testing process and we are extremely pleased with the team’s hard work to reach this great achievement,” says Russak. “As the California cannabis industry evolves and state-mandated laboratory standards of operation prove vital, both clients and consumers will now have assurance that the results will be accurate and reliable.”
In June, we spoke with the EVIO team as they were gearing up for the July 1 phase-in of the new rules. They said they were expanding their capacity in anticipation of a higher demand for lab testing services, including adding more resources, equipment and personnel.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s opinions based on his experience working in the laboratory industry. This is an opinion piece in a series of articles designed to highlight the potential problems that clients may run into with labs.
In the previous article, I discussed the laboratory’s first line of defense (e.g. certification or accreditation) when a grower, processor or dispensary (user) questions a laboratory result. Now let us look behind this paperwork wall to the laboratory culture the user will encounter once their complaint is filtered past the first line of defense.
It is up to the client (processor, grower or dispensary) to determine the quality of the lab they use.In an ISO 17025 (2005 or 2017) and TNI accreditation, the laboratory must be organized into management, quality and technical areas. Each area can overlap as in the ISO 17025-2017 standard or be required to remain as separate sections in the laboratory as in the ISO 17025-2005 or TNI 2009 standards. ISO 17025 standards (e.g. 2005 and 2017) specifically require a separation of monetary benefits for laboratory results as it applies to the technical staff. This “conflict of interest” (CoI) is not always clearly defined in the laboratory’s day-to-day practices.
One example that I have experienced with this CoI separation violation goes back to my days as a laboratory troubleshooter in the 1990s. I was called into a laboratory that was failing to meet their Department of Defense (DoD) contract for volatile organic hydrocarbon analyses (VOAs) of soil samples by purge trap-gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy. I was required to “fix” the problem. What I determined was:
The analytical chemists performing the VOAs analyses were high school graduates with no coursework in chemistry or biology.
There was no training program in place for these analysts in instrument use, instrument troubleshooting and interpretation of the analytical results.
The only training the analysts received was for simple instrument set-up and basic instrument computer software use. (e.g. Push this button and send results to clerks)
Clerks with a high school degree and no analytical chemistry training in the business office generated the final reports and certified them as accurate and complete.
None of the staff was technically competent to perform any in-depth VOAs analytical work nor was the clerical staff competent to certify the results reported.
When I pointed out these discrepancies to the laboratory management, they declined to make any changes. The laboratory management had a direct monetary interest in completing all analyses at the lowest costs within the time limit set by DoD. If the laboratory did not complete the analyses as per the DoD contract, DoD would cancel the contract and not pay the laboratory.
The DoD, in a “Double Blind” test sample, later caught this laboratory.. A Double Blind test sample is used to check to see if the laboratory is performing the tests correctly. The laboratory does not know it is a test sample. So if the laboratory is cheating, they will be caught.This does not mean that all laboratories have staff or management issues
Once the laboratory was caught by DoD with the Double Blind, laboratory management claimed they were unaware of this behavior and management fired all analytical staff performing VOAs and clerical staff reporting the VOAs results to show DoD that it was a rogue group of individuals and not the laboratory management. The fired staff members were denied unemployment benefits as they were fired with cause. So, the moral to this story is if the analytical staff and specifically the clerical staff had wanted to hold the laboratory management accountable for this conflict of interest, they may have been fired, but without cause. The staff would have kept their reputation for honesty and collected unemployment benefits.
I have witnessed the “CoI above repeatedly over the last 30+ years both in laboratories where I have been employed and as a consultant. The key laboratory culture problems that lead to these CoI issues can be distilled into the following categories:
Financial CoI: In the financial CoI, the laboratory management must turn out so many analytical test results per day to remain financially solvent. The philosophical change that comes over management is that the laboratory is not producing scientific results, but is instead just churning out tests. Therefore, the more tests the laboratory produces, the more money it makes. Any improvement in test output is to be looked upon favorably and anything that diminishes test output is bad. So, to put this in simple terms: “The laboratory will perform the analyses quickly and get the report sent to the user so the laboratory can be paid. Anything that slows this production down will not be tolerated!” To maximize the Return on Investment (RoI) for the laboratory, management will employ staff that outwardly mirrors this philosophy.
I Need This Job CoI: This is the CoI area that poor quality lab technical staff and clerical staff most readily falls into. As outlined in the example above, both the analytical staff and clerical staff lacked the educational credentials, the technical training to be proficient in the use of the analytical instruments, ability to identify problems performing the analytical methods or complications in reporting analytical results. That means they were locked into the positions they held in this specific laboratory. This lack of marketable skills placed pressure on these staff members to comply with all directives from management. What happened to them in the end was regrettable, but predictable. Management can prey on this type of staff limitation.
Lack of Interest or Care CoI: This form of CoI is the malaise that infects poor quality laboratories, but can reach a level in management, quality and technical areas as to produce a culture where everyone goes through the moves, but does not care about anything but receiving their paycheck. In my many years of laboratory troubleshooting this type of CoI is the most difficult to correct. Laboratories where I had to correct this problem required that I had to impress on the staff that their work mattered and that they were valued employees. I had to institute a rigorous training program, require staff quality milestones and enforce the quality of work results. During my years of laboratory troubleshooting, I only had to terminate three laboratory staff for poor work performance. Unfortunately after I left many of these laboratories, management drifted back to the problems listed above and the laboratory malaise returned. This proves that even though a laboratory staff can achieve quality performance, it can quickly dissolve with lax management.
So, what are the conclusions of this article?
Laboratory culture can place profit over scientific correctness, accuracy and precision.
Laboratory management sets the quality of staff that determines the analytical results and report quality the user receives.
Laboratory quality can vary from acceptable performance to unacceptable performance over the lifetime of the laboratory depending on management.
This does not mean that all laboratories have staff or management issues. It is up to the client (processor, grower or dispensary) to determine the quality of the lab they use.
The next article in this series will introduce the user to the specific Quality Control (QC) analyses that an acceptable laboratory should perform for the user’s sample. These QC analyses are not always performed by accredited laboratories as the specific state that regulates their cannabis program does not require them. The use of these QC samples is another example of how laboratory’s with poor quality systems construct another paper work wall.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s opinions based on his experience working in the laboratory industry. This is an opinion piece in a series of articles designed to highlight the potential problems that clients may run into with labs.
This article is the first in a series that will look into the risks any user of laboratory services (growers, processors or dispensary owners) will face from the quality systems in place in the laboratory. I will discuss specific risk areas in clear and understandable language so as to not obscure the substance of the article series with abbreviations and nomenclature that is not familiar with the reader. Subjects of the articles that follow will focus on the specific laboratory certification or accreditation requirements and how the user may find out if their risks are addressed. As these articles are meant to be interactive with the reader, users are encouraged to send questions or suggested topics to the author.
This article will be an introduction to the typical laboratory process that generates the “paperwork wall” and how it might impact the user.My experience with laboratory certification or accreditation (difference between the two discussed later in this article) comes from over 30+ years in the environmental chemistry field. My experiences include working under the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, FIFRA (pesticides) and ISO 17025 laboratory analyses and laboratory management. I have also received training to perform ISO 17025 and EPA Drinking Water audits. During this time I have been audited as a laboratory analyst/laboratory manager and have performed audits.
As such, I can open up the laboratory structure beyond the sterile “paperwork wall” that has been constructed to allow the user to see the quality of data that is used in final reports that can wreak havoc. This article will be an introduction to the typical laboratory process that generates the “paperwork wall” and how it might impact the user.
One of the common misconceptions that a user has with a “certified or accredited” laboratory is that procession of a certificate indicates that ALL laboratory analyses produced are accurate and precise. I liken this to the “paperwork wall” that laboratories produce when the user questions any results reported to them. The laboratory management assumes that they have answered the user complaint (i.e. a certified/accredited laboratory cannot make a mistake) and the user will not pursue further questions once the certificate is produced.Accreditation does not guarantee that the laboratory personnel can perform the analyses the user is paying for; just that the laboratory’s paperwork has been audited.
Certification is used for verifying that personnel have adequate credentials to practice certain disciplines, as well as for verifying that products meet certain requirements.
Accreditation is used to verify that laboratories have an appropriate quality management system and can properly perform certain test methods (e.g., ANSI, ASTM, and ISO test methods) and calibration parameters according to their scopes of accreditation.
So, how does that impact the user?
If your state or 3rd party certificate only accredits a laboratory, then the accreditation agency only inspects the laboratory’s quality program as it applies to written documents and static equipment. (e.g. The quality manual is written and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) are in place).
Accreditation does not guarantee that the laboratory personnel can perform the analyses the user is paying for; just that the laboratory’s paperwork has been audited.
Certification on the other hand says that the laboratory personnel are qualified to perform the laboratory analyses and that the final laboratory results meet specific (certain) requirements. In other words, the laboratory’s quality plan and SOPs are met.
There are three different paths that are utilized by state cannabis control agencies to accredit or certify a cannabis laboratory.
ISO 17025: The ISO laboratory quality standard for laboratory accreditation is the most broadly used. ISO 17025 is an international standard and its implementation in the United States is regulated by ILAC. There are three 3rd party companies that audit for and award ISO 17025 accreditation certificates. They are Perry Johnson Laboratory Accreditation Inc., ANAB and A2LA.
States: Some states have tried to blend an ISO 17025 requirement with their own state’s certification requirements to produce a mixed accreditation-certification program. But, this type of program may rely on two or more agencies (e.g. ISO 17025 3rd party auditors communicating with state auditors) to cover all specific laboratory areas.
In two of the paths above, the final result is that the laboratory receives accreditation. That means that only the quality management system and the scope (e.g. SOPS, laboratory instruments, etc.) have been audited, not the laboratory personnel or their capabilities. The third pathway may produce a certified laboratory or may not.
To provide an example of where an accredited laboratory followed their paperwork but produced inadequate results:
I received a laboratory report for organic chemical analyses of a client’s process.
The laboratory results placed the user in noncompliance with the state and federal regulatory limits.
But, the laboratory result contained data flags (e.g. additional information that explains why the laboratory result failed the laboratory’s quality requirements).
The laboratory still received payment from the user as the laboratory performed the analyses.
I had to explain to the regulatory agency that some of the data flags when investigated showed:
The laboratory failed to use the approved analytical method.
The detection level for the regulatory chemical was so low that the laboratory had no instrument capable to see those chemicals at the concentrations reported by the laboratory.
The state regulators accepted the explanation I provided and the user was no longer under a regulatory administrative order.
But, when I presented this information to the accreditation agency that accredited this laboratory I was informed:
The laboratory flagged the data so it can be reported to the user.
If the user wanted more from the laboratory, then the user will have to outline their specific requirement in a quality contract with the laboratory. (i.e. If the laboratory identifies the problems then they can report the data no matter what happens to the user).
So now, what is being done behind the “paperwork wall”? Areas such as those listed below can impact the results received by the user.
Laboratory quality culture: What does the laboratory staff think about quality in their normal daily work?
Laboratory staff competence: What is the level of training and real world competence of the staff that actually works on the analyses?
Laboratory capabilities: Does the laboratory actually have the laboratory instruments and equipment that can perform the analyses the user needs?
Laboratory quality control parameters: What is in the quality manual and does it make sense?
Laboratory analytical method validation: Are the analytical methods used by the laboratory validated by approved statistical procedures?
What should the user have in place to limit their risks from laboratory analyses?
Failsafe sampling preparation plans: Make sure the user samples for the laboratory are collected correctly.
Failsafe’s on laboratory sample reports: Protect the user from bad laboratory reports.
User auditing of the laboratory: Go to the laboratory and see if the laboratory can pass muster.
What’s Next: The next article will go behind the laboratory “paperwork wall” to detail the culture that impacts the user results negatively and how that can be recognized. Follow-up articles will help users developing quality plans that identify risks and how to limit them.
You can adjust all of your cookie settings by navigating the tabs on the left hand side.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
We use tracking pixels that set your arrival time at our website, this is used as part of our anti-spam and security measures. Disabling this tracking pixel would disable some of our security measures, and is therefore considered necessary for the safe operation of the website. This tracking pixel is cleared from your system when you delete files in your history.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.
3rd Party Cookies
This website uses Google Analytics to collect anonymous information such as the number of visitors to the site, and the most popular pages.
Keeping this cookie enabled helps us to improve our website.
Please enable Strictly Necessary Cookies first so that we can save your preferences!
We also use a Tracking Beacon from our email services provider Act-On that allows us to track interest in articles and subject areas of interest to our Newsletter Subscribers.
Keeping this beacon enabled helps us in deciding the topics that are of interest to our Newsletter Subscribers.
Please enable Strictly Necessary Cookies first so that we can save your preferences!