Phenova, Inc., a proficiency testing products and reference materials provider based in Golden, Colorado, works with labs and regulatory bodies to develop proficiency testing (PT) programs. According to a press release sent out by the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), Phenova is A2LA’s first ISO/IEC 17043 accredited PT provider for the cannabis marketplace.
According to Ty Garber, director of new business development for the cannabis and food and beverage markets at Phenova, they have been working with A2LA for over a decade in other industries, but the cannabis testing industry is a huge new market for them. “Our Cannabis Proficiency Testing products and services are experiencing high demand across North America and we are fortunate to offer our expertise in proficiency testing to client laboratories and regulatory agencies in their joint efforts to ensure cannabis product quality and safety,” says Garber. “By working with the laboratories and stakeholder agencies, we have been able to develop and operate Proficiency Testing Programs based on real marijuana matrices, especially where the matrix creates specific analytical challenges. This approach has proven to be very beneficial for everyone involved, and we are working diligently to expand these efforts.”
Trace McInturff, senior director of accreditation services at A2LA, says this could help fill a serious need for conformity assessments in accredited cannabis labs. “A2LA is excited to announce the expansion of Phenova’s existing ISO/IEC 17043 Proficiency Testing Provider scope of accreditation to become the first A2LA accredited Proficiency Testing Provider for cannabis,” says McInturff. “This milestone adds to the positive historical relationship between Phenova and A2LA that dates back to 2005 when A2LA implemented a new TNI SSAS program for Proficiency Testing Providers and A2LA performed one of the first assessments of its kind at Phenova.” McInturff also says that A2LA has been instrumental in establishing the initial ILAC Proficiency Testing Provider accreditation requirements which ultimately became the basis for ISO/IEC 17043.
In addition to the “real marijuana matrix PT programs” that Phenova offers in certain states and countries where legal, they also offer alternative PT standards for labs that have obtained or are working on obtaining ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation.
At this year’s Food Safety Consortium a couple weeks ago, the newly launched Cannabis Quality Track featured a number of panels and presentations that highlighted the many intersections between food safety and cannabis. One particular topic of interest was measuring the quality and safety of cannabis products through laboratory testing. At the event this year, representatives from the leading laboratory accreditation bodies in the country sat together on a panel titled Accreditation, Regulation & Certification: Cannabis Labs and Production.
Chris Gunning, life sciences accreditation manager with A2LA
The new ISO 17025:2017 standard was a topic addressed pretty early in the panel. Tracy Szerszen introduced the topic with a recap of the 2005 standard. “With 17025, for those that are familiar with the older version, 2005, there are really two sections of the standard for that one,” says Szerszen. “The newer standard is a little bit different, but there is a quality management system review that we do and we look at the laboratory to ensure that they are testing appropriately based on what they applied for. So, for cannabis labs, they typically have the same scope in types of methods with respect to microbiology and chemistry, and we are making sure they are following the standard from a technical standpoint, meaning they have the right equipment, the appropriate personnel and also have a quality management system.”
Chris Gunning followed that up with a closer look at the changes coming to the new 2017 standard. “If you are familiar with the 2005 version, you know that a lot of the clauses started out with a ‘you shall have a policy and procedure for doing X,’” says Gunning. “One of the major changes to the 2017 version is it gives laboratories more latitude on whether they need to have a policy/procedure to do certain things.” Gunning says the 2017 version is much more of an outcome-based standard. “As far as assessing to it, it becomes a little harder from our side because we can’t say you have to have this quality manual or you have to have this procedure that were going to assess you to. We are more open to looking at the outcomes.”
The most interesting change to the ISO standard comes with addressing the idea of risk. “One of the newest concepts in this standard is risk and how you assess your risk to your organization how you assess risk of impartiality, how you assess your measurement uncertainty when you are creating decision rules,” says Gunning. “Those are the big concepts that have changed in the 2017 standard in that it is more outcome-based and introducing the concept of risk more.”
After discussing some of the broader changes coming to the 2017 version, the panelists began delving into some common pitfalls and issues labs face when trying to get accredited. “From our experience, in Michigan, the new standard was written into the regulations, but a lot of labs were already accredited to 2005,” says Szerszen. “So, we actually contacted the state and explained to them that they have three years to transition. And some states will say ‘too bad, we want the 2017 ISO,’ so some of the cannabis labs are asking us to quickly come back so they can get appropriate licensing in the state and do a transition audit quickly.” She says most states seem to be comfortable with the current transition period everyone has, but it certainly requires some discussion and explanation to get on the same page with state regulators. “November 29, 2020 is the deadline for moving to the new 2017 standard.”
In addition to state requirements like traceability and security on top of an ISO 17025 accreditation, labs can run into issues not typically encountered in other testing markets, as Gunning mentioned during the panel. “One of the hardest parts of getting accredited is the need for properly validated methods, for all the different matrices in samples,” says Gunning. “Some of the biggest hurdles for new labs getting assessed are validation and the availability of reference materials and proficiency testing samples that meet their state requirements.” Those are just a handful of hurdles that labs aren’t usually anticipating when getting accredited.
Another big topic that generated a lot of dialogue during the panel was the need for a national accreditation standard for cannabis testing labs, one that Natalia Larrimer is advocating for. “Many laboratories are operating facilities in more than one state and what they are facing is a different set of criteria for laboratory recognition in each state, says Larrimer. “One initiative that we would love to see more support for, is a set of uniform requirements nationally. ACIL is currently working on developing these type of requirements which would be in addition to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard and specific for cannabis industry…” Larrimer says she’d like to see these requirements recognized nationally to get labs on the same page across multiple states. “This includes requirements for things like security, traceability, proficiency testing, sampling and personnel competence. The industry would greatly benefit from a uniform cannabis testing program across the US, so that testing facilities in Oregon are operating to the same criteria as facilities in California or Colorado, etc.”
The panelists went into greater detail on issues facing the cannabis lab testing industry, but also delved into certifications for food safety and quality, an important new development as the infused products market grows tremendously. Stay tuned for more highlights from this panel and other talks from the Food Safety Consortium. We will be following up this article with another that’ll shed some light on food safety certifications. Stay tuned for more!
The track will have presentations discussing food safety planning in cannabis manufacturing, HACCP, GMPs, regulatory compliance and supply chain issues among other areas. One particular topic of interest in the quality and safety of cannabis products is laboratory testing. At the event this year, leading laboratory accreditation bodies in the country will sit together on a panel titled Accreditation, Regulation & Certification: Cannabis Labs and Production.
Laboratories that are new to the industry and looking to get accredited should be aware of the new ISO/IEC 17025:2017 standard, which was released last year. According to Tracy Szerszen, labs that have already been accredited to the 2005 version will be required to transition to the 2017 version by November 29, 2020. “This can be done in conjunction with routine assessments scheduled in 2019 and 2020,” says Szerszen. “However, laboratories are cautioned to transition within a reasonable timeframe to avoid their 17025: 2005 certificate from lapsing prior to the transition deadline. Some of the changes to the standard include but are not limited to: the re-alignment of clauses similar to ISO 9001:2015 and other ISO industry standards, modifications to reporting and decision rules, the addition of risked based thinking and a new approach to managing complaints.” Szerszen, along with the other panelists, will go much more in-depth on changes to the new ISO 17025 and other topics during the panel at the Food Safety Consortium.
Some of the other topics the panel will discuss include:
ISO/IEC 17025 –what’s expected, benefits of accreditation, common deficiencies, updates to the new 17025 standard
Standards available for production facilities-GMPs & GFSI standards
How standards can be used to safeguard the quality of production and safety requirements
An open discussion with panelists from leading accreditation bodies on the state of cannabis lab testing
According to Chris Gunning, many states are requiring accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025, the standard used throughout the world in many other high-profile industries such as the testing of food and pharmaceuticals, environmental testing, and biosafety testing. “In an industry where there are few standard methods, where one hears that you can ‘pay to play,’ and where there are ‘novice’ laboratories popping up with little experience in operating a testing laboratory, it is extremely important to have an experienced, independent, 3rd party accrediting body evaluating the laboratory,” says Gunning. “This process confirms their adherence to appropriate quality management system standards, standard methods or their own internally developed methods, and can verify that those methods produce valid results. Ultimately, the process of accreditation gives the public confidence that a testing laboratory is meeting their state’s requirements and therefore consumers have access to a quality product.” He says most states with legal cannabis recognize the need for product testing by a credentialed laboratory.
Another important topic that the panel will address is the role of food safety standards in the cannabis industry. Lauren Maloney says cannabis product manufacturers should consider GMP and HACCP certifications for their businesses. “Food safety is important to the cannabis industry because although individual states have mandated several food safety requirements there still considerable risks involved in the production of cannabis products,” says Lauren Maloney. “Consumers want the assurance that the cannabis products are safe and therefore should be treated like a food product. Because FDA does not have oversight of these production facilities, third party certification is essential to ensure these facilities implement a robust food safety system.”
According to the press release, the two organizations hope to promote “foundational standards for quality control testing and regulatory guidelines that promote product safety.” Both organizations will advocate for the adoption of industry standards they deem appropriate for recreational and medical cannabis as well as hemp testing in the United States.
Michael Bronstein, executive director of ATACH, says there is an urgent need for open-source consensus standards and standard test methods for cannabis testing. “In an industry that lacks standard test methods and where testing is such a crucial part of the regulatory landscape, the need for open-source consensus standards is especially significant,” says Bronstein. “The development and adoption of standard test methods for cannabis testing is essential in ensuring consistency between laboratories, encouraging uniformity in state testing regulation, and providing a safe and consistent product to consumers.”
The press release also states that A2LA and ATACH seek to “develop regulation and adopt industry standards with goals of advancing and professionalizing the industry.”
The press release says this makes EVIO Labs Massachusetts one of only a few operating and accredited testing laboratories serving the state’s medical cannabis industry. With recreational sales coming shortly to the state, EVIO is preparing for a higher demand in their lab testing services. “We are very proud of all of the teams’ hard work that resulted in this advanced accreditation,” says James Kocis, lab director of EVIO Labs Massachusetts. “With the state-mandated laboratory regulations, EVIO upholds the high standards of testing and plays a pivotal role in ensuring consumer safety and confidence in the states burgeoning marijuana market.”
According to Adam Gouker, general manager at A2LA, EVIO Labs Massachusetts, based in Southborough, MA, is the first cannabis laboratory they accredited in the state. “A2LA is excited to expand our cannabis accreditation program into yet another state, promoting the value of independent third-party accreditation to support quality products in the industry,” says Gouker. “Having the opportunity to work with a prominent name in the industry such as EVIO Labs and assess their exceptional Massachusetts laboratory has been an additional bonus.”
According to the A2LA press release, by achieving ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation, EVIO Labs Massachusetts demonstrates that they “have management, quality and technical systems in place to ensure accurate and reliable analyses, as well as proper administrative processes to ensure that all aspects related to the sample, the analysis, and the reporting are standardized, measured, and monitored.” It also requires that personnel are competent to perform each analysis.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
A2LA 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).
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.”
Cannabis Testing Quality and the Role of ISO/IEC 17025
By Michelle Bradac, Senior Accreditation Officer, A2LA
In the wake of the legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational use, state regulatory agencies are tasked with establishing mechanisms for enforcement and oversight of the program requirements for participating patients, growers and dispensaries. An integral component of these rules includes lab testing of the product, as a means for protecting consumer health and assuring safety.
In the first part of this series, we spoke with Michelle Bradac, senior accreditation officer at A2LA, to learn the basics of cannabis laboratory accreditation. In the second part, we sat down with Roger Brauninger, A2LA Biosafety Program manager, to learn why states are looking to lab accreditation in their regulations for the cannabis industry. In the third part, we heard from Michael DeGregorio, chief executive officer of Konocti Analytics, Inc., discussing method development in the cannabis testing industry and his experience with getting accredited.
In the fourth and final part of this series, we sit down with Susan Audino, Ph.D., an A2LA lead assessor and instructor, laboratory consultant and board member for the Center for Research on Environmental Medicine in Maryland. Dr. Audino will share some insights into method validation and the most technical aspects of laboratory accreditation.
Susan Audino obtained her Ph.D. in Chemistry with an analytical chemistry major, physical and biochemistry minor areas. She currently owns and operates a consulting firm to service chemical and biological laboratories. Susan has been studying the chemistry and applications of cannabinoids and provides scientific and technical guidance to cannabis dispensaries, testing laboratories and medical personnel. Dr. Audino’s interest most directly involves cannabis consumer safety and protection, and promotes active research towards the development of official test methods specifically for the cannabis industry, and to advocate appropriate clinical research. In addition to serving on Expert Review Panels, she is also chairing the first Cannabis Advisory Panel and working group with AOAC International, is a member of the Executive Committee of the ASTM Cannabis Section and has consulted to numerous cannabis laboratories and state regulatory bodies.
CannabisIndustryJournal: What are the some of the most significant technical issues facing an accreditation body when assessing a cannabis-testing laboratory?
Susan: From the AB perspective, there needs to be a high level of expertise to evaluate the merits and scientific soundness of laboratory-developed analytical test methods. Because there are presently no standard or consensus test methods available, laboratories are required to develop their own methods, which need to be valid. Validating methods require a rigorous series of tests and statistical analyses to ensure the correctness and reliability of the laboratory’s product, which is– the test report.
CIJ: When is method validation required and how does this differ from system suitability?
Susan: Method validation is required whenever the laboratory modifies a currently accepted consensus or standard test method, or when the laboratory develops its own method. Method validation is characterized by a series of analytical performance criteria including determinations of accuracy, precision, linearity, specification, limit of detection, and limit of quantitation. The determination of system suitability requires a series of deliberate variations of parameters to ensure the complete system, that is all instrument(s) as well as the analytical method, is maintained throughout the entire analytical process. Traditionally, method validation has been referred to as “ruggedness” and system suitability as “robustness.”
CIJ: What are the most important aspects of method validation that must be taken into account?
Susan: In keeping with the FDA guidelines and other accepted criteria, I tend to recommend the International Conference on Harmonization (ICH), particularly Q 2A, which is a widely recognized program that discusses the pertinent characteristics of method validation. This include: method specification, linearity, range, accuracy, and precision (e.g., repeatability, intermediate precision, reproducibility). As mentioned earlier, system suitability is also a critical element and although related to method validation, does require its own protocol.
CIJ: What three areas do you see the laboratory having the hardest time with in preparing for accreditation?
Susan: My responses to this question assume the laboratory employs appropriate instruments to perform the necessary analyses, and that the laboratory employs personnel with experience and knowledge appropriate to develop test methods and interpret test results.
By and large, method validation that is not appropriate to the scope of their intended work. Driving this is an overall lack of information about method validation. Oftentimes there is an assumption that multiple recoveries of CRMs constitute “validation”. While it may be one element, this only demonstrates the instrument’s suitability. My recommendation is to utilize any one of a number of good single laboratory validation protocols. Options include, but are not limited to AOAC International, American Chemical Society, ASTM, and ICH protocols.
Second is the lack of statistically sound sampling protocols for those laboratories that are mandated by their governing states to go to the field to sample the product from required batches. Sampling protocols needs to address the heterogeneity of the plant, defining the batch, and determining/collecting a sample of sufficient quantity that will be both large enough and representative of the population, and to provide the laboratory an adequate amount from which to sub-sample.
Third, sample preparation. This is somewhat intertwined with my previous point. Once an appropriate sample has been collected, preparation must be relevant to the appropriate technology and assay. It is unlikely that a laboratory can perform a single preparation that is amenable to comprehensive testing.
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