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Quality Assurance for the Cannabis Industry

By Amy Ankrum
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Have you paused to consider that quality assurance is a moving target rather than a destination? It is culture within a company that requires constant improvement and change, rather than the work of a select few to reach one defined end goal. Quality, therefore, is not a box that must simply be checked but an overarching and driving force propelling organizations forward.

For those within the cannabis industry and specifically cannabis testing labs, quality assurance is critical to having a successful and thriving business within the rapidly evolving industry. Dr. Kim Ross, who earned her Ph.D. at the University of Colorado in Molecular Biology, and also has worked with multiple cannabis labs, says, “It is not that often that you get a new testing industry born these days and people are scrambling to borrow processes from other industries and apply these to the cannabis industry.” Those within cannabis testing labs are looking towards established industries like water and food testing labs to serve as a quality assurance beacon. Ross elaborates:

The cannabis industry is operating in the absence of federal oversight. If you think about it, the water, food, and pharmaceutical industries have federal oversight. In lieu of that, it is up to states to adopt regulatory practices and enforcement strategies to uphold a level of compliance and data defensibility that these types of regulators have seen in their careers working in the FDA, EPS, NELAC or ISO.

For cannabis testing labs, the stakes are high. First, there is the need to keep up with the rapidly evolving industry climate as more and more states and governing bodies are setting requirements and expectations for quality and compliance. It is in nobody’s best interest to fall behind or be a late adopter to the increasingly regulatory compliance environment.  

Additionally, untrustworthy data sets can have detrimental impacts on people and patients. Medical applications of cannabis require specific results in order to ensure the safety of patients, many of which are immunocompromised. Beyond damage to people and patients, businesses themselves can be hurt if a cannabis testing lab were to present inaccurate or flawed data sets. Ross shared hypothetical examples of potential negative impacts:

 If, for example, you fail a product for microbiology based on false-positive results then it incurs damages to the client because now their product can’t go to market. Additionally, falsely inflated THC results are also a huge problem in the industry, and can result in downstream problems with edible dosing or consumer satisfaction. 

A quality assurance system can minimize risk and maximize adherences to proper procedure, resulting in reliable data. Recalls, product issues and lawsuits cost organizations tremendous amounts of time and money, both to manage the problem at hand and prevent future incidents. Not to mention, the immeasurable damage done to the brand & industry by being viewed as untrustworthy–especially as a consumable product. “Ensuring data defensibility and data integrity protects the laboratory from lawsuits,” says Ross. “That is a really important piece of a quality assurance system for a laboratory.”

One common misconception is viewing quality assurance as a cost center rather than a profitability maximizer. A robust quality assurance system is a competitive advantage–especially for those who are not yet mandated to be compliant to a particular standard, like ISO/IEC 17025, but choose to pursue that accreditation knowing it reflects reliability. In many ways, quality assurance can be summarized as “say what you do, and do what you say”, with a willingness to allow third-party confirmation of your commitment and practice. “Accreditation gives an unbiased stamp of approval that helps ensure data defensibility in the laboratory,” affirms Ross.

Accreditation as a result of quality assurance ultimately leads to reliable and trustworthy data sets. Ross shared:

It might appear to be easy to buy expensive instrumentation, accept samples, and produce data. There are so many ways to do that, some of which are incorrect, and therefore accreditation is really an opportunity to have professionals evaluate methodology and post-analytical data processing to ensure that it is scientifically sound. It is an opportunity for a laboratory to be confident that their processes and reporting procedures are robust and error free.  

Remember: this is a new industry. There aren’t firmly established methods and procedures like other legacy industries. “We are operating in a time and space where there is no standard methodology and that makes oversight by a third party even more important,” shares Ross. When a company opts to pursue accreditation they are indicating a willingness to be honest and transparent with their business processes, procedures, outcomes and data. Accreditation, therefore, is necessary for this emerging industry. Having a robust, inclusive quality assurance system in place will ease and quicken their pursuit of accreditation.The stress on an audit day when there is a digitized system is vastly lower than a system that is printed and physically maintained.

Not all quality assurance systems are created equal. There are still some companies seeking to implement systems that lack the modernization necessary to truly propel them forward towards continuous improvement and scalability. Quality assurance software with widespread use and adaptation across organizations is both scalable and in support of continuous improvements. Binders, rows of filing cabinets and complicated excel spreadsheets are not a scalable backbone for a quality system. 

Beyond the accessibility and traceability that a digital system creates, it also protects. “We can protect that data with credentialed logins for key personnel and have information at our fingertips to reduce the regulatory stress on all personnel,” says Ross. The stress on an audit day when there is a digitized system is vastly lower than a system that is printed and physically maintained.

For those in the cannabis industry, specifically cannabis testing labs, there is an unequivocal advantage to implementing a system that supports continuous improvement, reliable data sets and the very best in business practices. Doing so will help sustain and grow the industry, and could be pivotal in transforming the production, market and research of cannabis.

A2LA Accredits First Rec Alaska Cannabis Lab

By Aaron G. Biros, Aaron G. Biros
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The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) announced recently the accreditation of The New Frontier Research (TNFR) laboratory to ISO/IEC 17025:2005. TNFR, based in Wasilla, Alaska, was previously evaluated by A2LA for competence and proficiency to perform the minimum tests required by Alaska.

TFNR is now the first recreational cannabis-testing laboratory in Alaska accredited to ISO/IEC 17025 standard. According to Roger Brauninger, A2LA biosafety program manager, this accreditation is a sign of attention to thorough science. “Cannabis testing laboratories that have gained ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation have demonstrated their competence and commitment to rigorous science,” says Brauninger. “In the greatly scrutinized recreational cannabis industry, we are pleased to have granted the first accreditation of its kind in Alaska.”

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Roger Brauninger, A2LA biosafety program manager

According to the press release, the ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation is the most significant third-party lab accreditation an organization can receive. The standard confirms labs have management, quality and technical systems designed for accurate and repeatable analyses, in addition to proper administrative processes for testing.

Jessica Alexander, technical director of the TNFR laboratory, says this is the first step in many to researching the medical properties of cannabis. “By achieving ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation, The New Frontier Research believes that it advances the cannabis industry as a whole so that we can conduct legitimate research to unlock the amazing potential that this plant has for development of more effective medicines to address problems like opioid dependence and pediatric seizures,” says Alexander.

A2LA Accredits First Cannabis Lab in PA

By Aaron G. Biros, Aaron G. Biros
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According to a press release sent out this morning, the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) accredited their first Pennsylvania cannabis-testing laboratory. Located in Harrisburg, PA, Keystone State Testing finalized their accreditation for ISO/IEC 17025 on February 21, 2018.

KeystoneStateTestinglogoA2LA also accredited the laboratory to two cannabis-testing-specific programs, ISO/IEC 17025 – General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories and A2LA R243 – Specific Requirements – Cannabis Testing Laboratory Accreditation Program. The R243 program is a collaboration with Americans for Safe Access (ASA) that takes some recommendation for regulators from the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA).

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Dr. Kelly Greenland, owner and operator of Keystone State Testing

Keystone State Testing is now able to perform all of the tests for cannabis products under the state of Pennsylvania’s regulations. According to Dr. Kelly Greenland, owner and operator of Keystone State Testing, getting accredited is about safeguarding patient safety. “Keystone State Testing is proud to be the first Pennsylvania laboratory to earn A2LA ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation as well as ASA’s Patient Focused Certification,” says Dr. Greenland. “We regard these accreditations and certifications as the first steps in ensuring patient safety and will continue to do everything within our power to ensure medical marijuana patient safety.”

A2LA General Manager Adam Gouker says he wants to see more accreditations include the ASA requirements in R243. “A2LA is pleased to see the growing adoption of the combined assessment to include the ASA requirements,” says Gouker. “Our staff has worked tirelessly in conjunction with ASA staff to create this combined program and offer something that no other accreditation body in the world offers. We congratulate Keystone State Testing Labs on leading the charge in the state of Pennsylvania and laying the groundwork for future laboratories to follow.”

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Ask The Expert: Exploring Cannabis Laboratory Accreditation Part 2

By Aaron G. Biros, Aaron G. Biros
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In the first part of this series, Michelle Bradac, senior accreditation officer at the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), told us about the basics of laboratory accreditation, what it means and why it is such a cornerstone of product safety. In this next piece, we sit down with Roger Brauninger, A2LA Biosafety Program manager, to learn why states are looking to lab accreditation in their regulations for the cannabis industry.

Brauninger has worked at A2LA since 1999. As the manager of their biosafety program, his focus is on developing and maintaining accreditation programs in the life sciences. Brauninger has conducted a number of management system assessments to ISO/IEC 17025 and 17020 and also evaluates other assessors in this role.

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Roger Brauninger, A2LA biosafety program manager

He is A2LA’s point person for interacting with organizations working with food and drug safety, human and animal anti-doping, biological and chemical threat agents and since 2014 for issues related to cannabis testing. He is a member of the ASTM D37 Cannabis committee, a group focused on creating standards for cannabis products. He was also a member of the stakeholder panel on strategic food analytical methods (SPSFAM) cannabis potency working group when they were awarded the Official Methods Board (OMB) award for achievement in technical and scientific excellence at the AOAC’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in Atlanta, GA. Brauninger holds an M.S. degree in Cellular, Microbial and Molecular Biology from George Mason University and is a member of the Society for Toxicology, AOAC International and the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP).

In this part of the series, we sit down with Brauninger to learn specific requirements in states, some of the benefits of using ISO/IEC 17025 and the influx of start-up or novice testing laboratories. Stay tuned for part three.

CannabisIndustryJournal: Do all states with legalized medical cannabis require the testing to be performed by an ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratory?

Roger Brauninger: No not at present, while most of the states where cannabis is legal do require accreditation; there are some states that have no requirements dealing with ensuring the competence of the testing laboratories, some that require the labs to be accredited to state environmental and drinking water standards, some that require laboratories adhere to Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) requirements and some have no requirements in place currently. Now, there are roughly 13 states that require or recommend accreditation of the testing laboratory to ISO/IEC 17025.

CIJ: If and when cannabis use is accepted federally, how is ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation of testing laboratories beneficial?

Roger: The accreditation process provides a uniform platform to allow for comparability of test results between states. This would also allow for these laboratories to benefit by being able to expand their customer base, if state borders were not an artificially imposed barrier to trade. This could also help to raise the quality of the testing services by allowing for greater participation in realistic accredited proficiency testing programs, which can create greater comparability of methods and results.

CIJ: What are the benefits to the states by choosing to require ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation as a basis for competence of testing laboratories?

Roger: States face the unique challenge, due to the federal illegality of cannabis, that they must craft their own regulatory cannabis program requirements. The ISO/IEC 17025 requirements provides a means upon which to recognize laboratory competence. This saves the states from having to come up with their own laboratory quality management requirements detailing the necessary activities a laboratory must address with respect to documentation, chain of custody, method validation, etc. Because these items are already considered in the standard. ISO/IEC 17025 helps to creates a baseline consistency amongst laboratories between states. And It also helps to   provides for the legal defensibility of the test results. If and when cannabis is legalized on a federal level, a uniform 50 state recognition is possible using ISO/IEC 17025 as the basis of recognition. In short accreditation can help to ensure that test results have greater comparability and reliability; It also provides greater trust and confidence in the labels and the stated ingredients.

CIJ: Many of the laboratories are “starting up”, how is A2LA equipped to deal with the influx of novice laboratories in this field of testing?

Roger: A2LA offers many different relevant training classes, including those on the ISO/IEC 17025 standard itself, (as well as ones that also contain cannabis-specific content), internal auditing, documenting your quality system, etc. for the laboratories. A2LA also is knowledgeable regarding various states’ cannabis regulatory requirements and can help guide the labs through some of the many obstacles they face in order to perform testing in their state.

CIJ: Does A2LA provide any technical assistance to laboratories that are starting up in this industry?

Roger: A2LA has numerous technical assessors who are experts in the analytical technology associated with cannabis testing. Assessors can be hired in a consulting role and act independently of the assessment process (and independent of A2LA). As a consultant, they can also assist in setting up a quality management system in compliance with ISO/IEC 17025.

CIJ: What benefits can be gained from a laboratory seeking accreditation or from a state that requires cannabis testing laboratories to be accredited?

Roger: Accreditation can provide legal defensibility and increased confidence in the test results being able to stand up in court.   It also may help to lower the cost of doing business because it helps to ensure that the test methods are in control by the laboratory and has been shown to be able to reduce the need for repeat testing. Laboratory accreditation has also led to reduced insurance rates in some cases.

Ask The Expert: Exploring Cannabis Laboratory Accreditation Part 1

By Aaron G. Biros, Aaron G. Biros
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Laboratories throughout the world and in a variety of industries get accredited to demonstrate their competency. In the cannabis industry, some states are beginning to require it and many labs get accredited even if their state doesn’t require it. So what does accreditation mean and why is it so important?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a standard-setting organization that works to promote industrial and commercial standards. The standards set by ISO are designed to help prove a product’s safety and quality to a certain minimum level.

The ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standard sets specific requirements to demonstrate the competence of a lab for carrying out tests. It essentially shows customers or regulators that a lab has the skills and scientific know-how to perform testing, certifying the lab is capable. Accreditation means certifying a lab to that standard and is synonymous with both quality and competence of an organization.

Michelle Bradac, senior accreditation officer at A2LA

The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), founded in 1978, is a non-profit, internationally recognized accreditation body in the United States that offers laboratory and laboratory-related accreditation services and training. They have worked in the cannabis industry to accredit a number of cannabis laboratories to the ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standard. In this series of articles, we sit down with experts from A2LA to learn more about cannabis lab accreditation, why it’s so important and some of the challenges labs face when seeking accreditation.

In the first part of this series, we sit down with Michelle Bradac, senior accreditation officer at A2LA, to learn the basics. Michelle earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology at Towson State University and then attended Hood College, earning a master’s certificate in Regulatory Compliance in Biomedical Science. She has worked at A2LA for eight years, assisting in the accreditation of food testing, environmental testing and cannabis testing laboratories to ISO/IEC 17025, as well as performing quality system assessments. She also facilitates a number of accreditation programs including Field Sampling Measurement Organizations, STAC (Air Emissions) and Cannabis Testing. Bradac is also a member of the ASTM Cannabis Working Group and the ACIL Cannabis Working Group.

In the next part of this series, we will hear about specific requirements in states, some of the benefits of using ISO/IEC 17025 and the influx of start-up or novice testing laboratories.

CannabisIndustryJournal: What is Laboratory Accreditation? 

Michelle Bradac: Laboratory accreditation is a formal means of determining and recognizing the technical competence of laboratories to perform specific types of testing, via the use of an independent third party accreditation body. It provides laboratory users a mechanism to identify and select reliable testing organizations. Use of ISO/IEC 17025 as a basis for laboratory accreditation is internationally recognized as THE conformity assessment standard to which laboratories are accredited; it is used in the USA by both Public (State, local, federal (FDA, USDA, CDC, DoD and EPA) and private laboratories for testing of foods & feeds, drugs, cosmetics, tobacco, natural products and cannabis (among other materials and products).

CIJ: How does laboratory accreditation benefit the cannabis testing laboratory? 

Michelle: It provides a framework for continuous improvement and self-correction where the cannabis testing laboratory data management system is independently reviewed and blinded sample Proficiency Testing is encouraged.

CIJ: How does laboratory accreditation benefit the medical cannabis recommending physician?

Michelle: The physician gains a greater degree of assurance that the material provided by the dispensary is what the label says it is. This is especially important in working with patients that are immunocompromised where heavy metals, residual solvents and harmful pesticides could have negative health consequences.

CIJ: How does the testing of medical cannabis by an accredited laboratory benefit the patient?

Michelle: The patient gains increased confidence that the label accurately reflects the potency and chemical properties of the product.

CIJ: What specific challenges does A2LA face in accrediting cannabis testing laboratories?

Michelle: Much of the typical infrastructure is lacking or only now being developed. This ranges from proficiency testing programs, Reference Material Producers, method development and sampling procedures. There is also difficulty in ensuring that laboratories are appropriately validating methods in states where cannabis product is not yet available.

CIJ: Why is A2LA the optimal choice for ensuring the quality and reliability of the results produced by medical marijuana testing laboratories?

Michelle: A2LA has by far the most experience as an accreditor of laboratories that perform testing of natural plant products. We have been performing assessments of and granting accreditation to these types of laboratories for over twenty years. This results in our staff and our assessor corps who are then able to provide valuable insight and technical sophistication that other accreditation bodies do not have. Specific to the cannabis industry, A2LA is also represented in all the major standards development organizations, tradeshows and industry groups; which strengthens our understanding of the industry and ability to assist our customers towards meeting their goal of obtaining accreditation.

SC Labs Santa Cruz Gets ISO 17025 Accreditation

By Aaron G. Biros, Aaron G. Biros
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Earlier this week, SC Labs issued a press release announcing they achieved ISO/IEC 17025:2005 accreditation for the cannabinoids panel at their Santa Cruz location.

“We are thrilled to announce our ISO accreditation as this is one of our most important achievements over the past seven years of serving the cannabis industry and demonstrates our commitment to serving our clients with integrity,” says Jeff Gray, co-founder and chief executive officer of SC Labs. ISO 17025 accreditation represents an international standard for a laboratory’s technical competence in producing accurate test results.

“Being accredited to this International Standard demonstrates our robust quality system, technical competence, the calibration and suitability of our instrumentation and our ability to produce precise and accurate test data,” says Gray. “For clients, it enhances their confidence in our services and their choice in a business partner, provides them with additional legal defensibility in complying with upcoming regulations, and enhances the integrity of their products based on SC Labs results.”

SC Labs is currently expanding in California, growing their Southern California and Santa Cruz locations, and adding field offices throughout the state, according to the press release.

A2LA Accredits First Cannabis Testing Laboratory in Washington State

By Aaron G. Biros, Aaron G. Biros
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The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) announced today that they just accredited the Washington State Department of Agriculture-Chemical and Hop Laboratory to ISO 17025. The laboratory, based in Yakima, WA, finished the accreditation process on May 3, 2017.

The lab was accredited to ISO/IEC 17025 – General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories, so they are now able to test for pesticides in cannabis and other matrices, according to the press release published today. “WSDA sought this accreditation to ensure our clients can have absolute confidence in our testing methods and lab results. The information we produce drives enforcement cases and policy decisions,” says Mike Firman, manager of the WSDA Chemical and Hop Laboratory. “We want to do everything that can be done to make sure our data is reliable.”

The A2LA Cannabis Accreditation Program is essentially a set of standards for quality in testing cannabis and cannabis-based products, such as infused products, tinctures and concentrates. ISO 17025 accreditation is quickly become a desirable certification for laboratories. Many states strongly encourage or even require ISO 17025 accreditation for cannabis laboratories. California recently released a set of proposed lab testing regulations for the cannabis industry that specifically requires an ISO 17025 accreditation in order for laboratories to issue certificates of analysis.

Because each state’s requirements for laboratories testing cannabis varies so greatly, A2LA works with state regulators to craft their accreditation program to meet each state’s specific requirements. “A2LA is excited to play such an important role in the accreditation of cannabis testing laboratories and is pleased to see ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation expanding into additional states,” says A2LA General Manager Adam Gouker. “Priority must be placed on ensuring that cannabis products are tested by competent laboratories to convey confidence in the results – a cornerstone which underpins the safety to all end-users.” A2LA is currently accepting applications for cannabis laboratories working to receive accreditation. Labs that already have ISO 17025 accreditation and are in a state with legal cannabis, have the ability to expand their scope of accreditation if they are looking to get into cannabis testing.

California Releases Draft Lab Testing Regulations

By Aaron G. Biros, Aaron G. Biros
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Last Friday, the Bureau of Marijuana Control, the regulatory body overseeing California’s cannabis industry, released a set of proposed regulations for the lab testing market. The regulations are somewhat comprehensive, covering sampling, licensing, pesticide testing, microbiological contaminants, residual solvents, water activity and much more.

Formerly named the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation under the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs, the Bureau of Marijuana Control is tasked with overseeing the development, implementation and enforcement of the regulations for the state’s cannabis industry. In their statement of reasons for the lab testing regulations, the bureau says they are designed with public health and safety at top of mind. At first glance, much of these laboratory rules seem loosely modeled off of Colorado and Oregon’s already implemented testing regulations.

The regulations lay out requirements for testing cannabis products prior to bringing them to market. That includes testing for residual solvents and processing chemicals, microbiological contaminants, mycotoxins, foreign materials, heavy metals, pesticides, homogeneity as well as potency in quantifying cannabinoids.

The microbiological impurities section lays out some testing requirements designed to prevent food-borne illness. Labs are required to test for E. coli, Salmonella and multiple species of the pathogenic Aspergillus. If a lab detects any of those contaminants, that batch of cannabis or cannabis products would then fail the test and could not be sold to consumers. A lab must report all of that information on a certificate of analysis, according to the text of the regulations.

The proposed regulations stipulate requirements for sampling, including requiring labs to develop sampling plans with standard operating procedures (SOPs) and requiring a lab-approved sampler to follow chain-of-custody protocols. The rules also propose requiring SOPs for analytical methodology. That includes some method development parameters like the list of analytes and applicable matrices. It also says all testing methods need to be validated and labs need to incorporate guidelines from the FDA’s Bacterial Analytical Manual, the U.S. Pharmacopeia and AOAC’s Official Methods of Analysis for Contaminant Testing, or other scientifically valid testing methodology.

Labs will be required to be ISO 17025-accredited in order to perform routine cannabis testing. Laboratories also need to participate in proficiency testing (PT) program “provided by an ISO 17043 accredited proficiency-test provider.” If a laboratory fails to participate in the PT program or fails to pass to receive a passing grade, that lab may be subject to disciplinary action against the lab’s license. Labs need to have corrective action plans in place if they fail to get a passing grade for any portion of the PT program.

First Nevada Cannabis Lab Receives ISO 17025 Accreditation.

By Aaron G. Biros, Aaron G. Biros
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On December 7th, 374 Labs received ISO 17025 accreditation, becoming the first in Nevada to do so. The laboratory, based in Sparks, Nevada, is state-certified and now the only ISO 17025 accredited lab in the state, according to a press release. The laboratory is a member in both the Association of Commercial Cannabis Laboratories (ACCL) and the Nevada Cannabis Laboratory Association (NVCLA).

Managing Partner Alec Garcia at the LCMS/MS
Managing Partner Alec Garcia at the LCMS/MS

“As Nevada transitions into an adult-use cannabis market, it’s very important that the state’s cannabis testing laboratories are held to the highest standards – and ISO 17025 is a requirement of top testing laboratories in all industries from biotech to forensics in most major countries,” says Dr. Jeff Angermann, assistant professor in the University of Nevada, Reno’s School of Community Health Sciences.

Laboratory Technician Bevan Meade working on sample preparation.
Laboratory Technician Bevan Meade working on sample preparation.

According to the release, 374 Labs was a driving force behind Nevada’s round robin cannabis lab testing program. That program, administered by the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH) and the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA), sends cannabis samples to each state-certified cannabis lab for a full analysis, measuring the consistency in test results across labs. “In other states proficiency involves testing pre-prepared, purified samples and neglects the challenges of coaxing out delicate analytes from the complex array of compounds found in actual marijuana,” says Laboratory Director Jason Strull. “I commend the DPBH and NDA for facilitating such an advanced quality program.”

Also notable is the announcing of their partnership with Clean Green Certified, a third-party certification (based on USDA organic certification) for sustainable, organically based cannabis cultivation. “Nevada allows certain levels of pesticides like Myclobutanil on its certified marijuana, so we wanted a way for patients and consumers to able to distinguish marijuana that is grown using organic methods,” said Laboratory Director Jason Strull. According to Michael Seibert, managing member of 374 Labs, they have already started performing inspections for the third-party certification and the first facility inspected was Silver State Trading in Sparks, Nevada (certified for both production and cultivation).

The Practical Chemist

Building the Foundation of Medical Cannabis Testing – Understanding the Use of Standards and Reference Materials – Part 2

By Joe Konschnik
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In the last article I referred to the analogy of the analytical reference material being a keystone of the laboratory foundation, the stone upon which all data relies. I then described the types of reference materials and their use in analytical testing in general terms. This article will describe the steps required to properly manufacture and deliver a certified reference material (CRM) along with the necessary documentation.

A CRM is an exclusive reference material that meets strict criteria defined by ISO Guide 34 and ISO/IEC 17025.  ISO is the International Organization for Standardization and IEC is the International Electrotechnical Commission. These organizations work together to set globally recognized standards. In order for a reference material to be labeled as a CRM it must 1) be made with raw or starting materials which are characterized using qualified methods and instruments, 2) be produced in an ISO-accredited lab under documented procedures, and 3) fall under the manufacturer’s scopes of accreditation. Verifying a CRM supplier has these credentials is easily done by viewing their certificates which should include their scopes of accreditation. Restek_accredit

There are many steps required to produce a CRM that meets the above three criteria.  The first step requires a review of the customer’s, or end-user’s requirements to carefully define what is to be tested, at what levels and which analytical workflow will be used.  Such information enables the producer to identify the proper compounds and solvents required to properly formulate the requested CRM.

The next step requires sourcing and acquiring the raw, or starting materials, then verifying their compatibility and stability using stability and shipping studies in accordance with ISO requirements. Next the chemical identify and purity of the raw materials must be characterized using one or more analytical techniques such as: GC-FID, HPLC, GC-ECD, GC-MS, LC-MS, refractive index and melting point. In some cases, the percent purity is changed by the producer when their testing verifies it’s different from the supplier label. All steps are of course documented.

restek_CRMThe producer’s analytical balances must be verified using NIST traceable weights and calibrated annually by an accredited third party provider to guarantee accurate measurement. CRMs must be prepared using Class A volumetric glassware, and all ampules and vials used in preparation and final packaging must be chemically treated to prevent compound degradation during storage. Next, CRMs are packaged in an appropriate container, labeled then properly stored to maintain the quality and stability until it’s ready to be shipped. All labels must include critical storage, safety and shelf life information to meet federal requirements. The label information must be properly linked to documentation commonly referred to as a certificate of analysis (COA) which describes all of the above steps and verifies the traceability and uncertainty of all measurements for each compound contained in the CRM. Restek_CRM2

My company, RESTEK, offers a variety of documentation choices to accompany each CRM. Depending on the intended use and data quality objectives specified by the end-user, which were defined way back at the first step, three options are typically offered: They include gravimetric only, qualitative which includes gravimetric, and fully quantitative which includes all three levels of documentation. The graphic to the right summarizes the three options and what they include.

It’s important to understand which level you’re purchasing especially when ordering a custom CRM from a supplier. Most stock CRMs include all three levels of documentation, but it’s important to be sure.

Understanding what must be done to produce and deliver a CRM sets it apart from other reference material types, however it’s important to understand there are some instances where CRMs are either not available, nor required and in those situations other types of reference materials are perfectly acceptable.

If you have any questions or would like more details about reference materials please contact me, Joe Konschnik at (800) 356-1688 ext. 2002 by phone, or email me at joe.konschnik@restek.com.