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
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.
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.
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.
Having gone though training and successfully obtained a food service manager, your words ring true to what I tell everyone at all phases of growing and processing.