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Food processing and sanitation

Key Points To Incorporate Into a Sanitation Training Program

By Ellice Ogle
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Food processing and sanitation

To reinforce the ideas in the article, Sanitation Starting Points: More Than Sweeping the Floors and Wiping Down the Table, the main goal of sanitation is to produce safe food and to keep consumers healthy and safe from foodborne illness. With the cannabis industry growing rapidly, cannabis reaches a larger, wider audience. This population includes consumers most vulnerable to foodborne illness such as people with immunocompromised systems, the elderly, the pregnant, or the young. These consumers, and all consumers, need and deserve safe cannabis products every experience.

GMPSanitation is not an innate characteristic; rather, sanitation is a trained skill. To carry out proper sanitation, training on proper sanitation practices needs to be provided. Every cannabis food manufacturing facility should require and value a written sanitation program. However, a written program naturally needs to be carried out by people. Hiring experienced experts may be one solution and developing non-specialists into an effective team is an alternative solution. Note that it takes every member of the team, even those without “sanitation” in their title, to carry out an effective sanitation program.

Sanitation is a part of the Food and Drug Administration’s Code of Federal Regulations on current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) in manufacturing, packing or holding human food (21 CFR 110). Sanitation starts at the beginning of a food manufacturing process; even before we are ready to work, there are microorganisms, or microbes, present on the work surfaces. What are microbes? At a very basic level, the effects of microbes can be categorized into the good, the bad, and the ugly. The beneficial effects are when microbes are used to produce cheese, beer or yogurt. On the other hand, microbes can have undesirable effects that spoil food, altering the quality aspects such as taste or visual appeal. The last category are microbes that have consequences such as illness, organ failure and even death.In a food manufacturing facility, minimizing microbes at the beginning of the process increases the chance of producing safe food.FDAlogo

Proper sanitation training allows cannabis food manufacturing facilities to maintain a clean environment to prevent foodborne illness from affecting human health. Sanitation training can be as basic or as complex as the company and its processes; as such, sanitation training must evolve alongside the company’s growth. Here are five key talking points to cover in a basic sanitation training program for any facility.

  1. Provide the “why” of sanitation. While Simon Sinek’s TEDx talk “Start with why” is geared more towards leadership, the essential message that “Whether individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to.” Merely paying someone to complete a task will not always yield the same results as inspiring someone to care about their work. Providing examples of the importance of sanitation in keeping people healthy and safe will impart a deeper motivation for all to practice proper sanitation. An entertaining illustration for the “why” is to share that scientists at the University of Arizona found that cellphones can carry ten times more bacteria than toilet seats!
  2. Define cleaning and sanitizing. Cleaning does not equal sanitizing. Cleaning merely removes visible soil from a surface while sanitizing reduces the number of microorganisms on the clean surface to safe levels. For an effective sanitation system, first clean then sanitize all utensils and food-contact surfaces of equipment before use (FDA Food Code 2017 4-7).
  3. Explain from the ground up. Instead of jumping into the training of cleaning a specific piece of equipment, start training with the foundational aspects of food safety. For example, a basic instruction on microbiology and microorganisms will lay down the foundation for all future training. Understanding that FATTOM (the acronym for food, acidity, temperature, time, oxygen and moisture) are the variables that any microorganism needs to grow supplies people with the tools to understand how to prevent microorganisms from growing. Furthermore, explaining the basics such as the common foodborne illnesses can reinforce the “why” of sanitation.

    Food processing and sanitation
    PPE for all employees at every stage of processing is essential
  4. Inform about the principles of chemistry and chemicals. A basic introduction to chemicals and the pH scale can go a long way in having the knowledge to prevent mixing incompatible chemicals, prevent damaging surfaces, or prevent hurting people. Additionally, proper concentration (i.e. dilution) is key in the effectiveness of the cleaning chemicals.
  5. Ensure the training is relevant and applicable to your company. Direct proper sanitation practices with a strong master sanitation schedule and ensure accountability with daily, weekly, monthly and annual logs. Develop sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs), maintain safety data sheets (SDS’s) and dispense proper protective equipment (PPE).

Overall, sanitation is everyone’s job. All employees at all levels will benefit from learning about proper sanitation practices. As such, it is beneficial to incorporate sanitation practices into cannabis food manufacturing processes from the beginning. Protect your brand from product rework or recalls and, most importantly, protect your consumers from foodborne illness, by practicing proper sanitation.

The First Map of the Cannabis Genome

By Aaron G. Biros
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Sunrise Genetics, Inc., the parent company for Hempgene and Marigene, announced last week they have successfully mapped the cannabis genome. The genome map was presented at the 26th Annual Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego, CA during the panel “Cannabis Genomics: Advances and Applications.”

According to CJ Schwartz, chief executive officer of Sunrise Genetics, the full genome map will allow breeders to develop strains using DNA sequence information to complement phenotyping. “In this way a breeding program can be guided by the breeder versus blindly as it is for just pheno-hunting,” says Schwartz. “At the DNA level, we can identify what version of a set of genes a plant contains, and make predictions as to the phenotype, without ever growing the plant. As we make more and more gene markers, we have more genes to track, and breeding becomes more rapid, efficient and precise.” Schwartz says this is essential for breeding stable, repeatable plants. “A commercial strain will be grown in different environments, with solid genetics, the phenotype will mostly stay true, a term we call Genetic Penetrance.”

Ancestry-painted chromosomes for marijuana Image: Chris Grassa / Sunrise Genetics

Determining a plant’s DNA can be extremely valuable and completing the map of the genome now makes this more precise. It can serve as a point of proof, according to Schwartz, providing evidence of lineage in a breeding project and confirming the uniqueness and identity of a strain. The genome map can also allow breeders to select specific genes to develop custom strains. And in addition to all that, it provides legal protection. “Knowing your plants DNA code is the first step to being able take action so no one else can protect it,” says Schwartz. “Well documented evidence in the development of a customized strains is essential to maintaining control of your plant and keeping those you distrust (big pharma) away, many of which have minimal interest in the whole plant anyhow.”

CJ Schwartz, chief executive officer of Sunrise Genetics

Schwartz says this project took them roughly 18 months to wrap up. “One of the biggest problems was just finding the right plants to grow,” says Schwartz. “In addition we used some emerging technologies and those had some challenges of their own.” According to Schwartz, a key aspect in all this was finding the right collaborators. They ended up working with CBDRx and the plant biology department at the University of Minnesota, where a DEA-licensed lab has been researching cannabis since 2002. “George Weiblen’s group at UM has been working on Cannabis for over a decade,” says Schwartz. “During that time they did repeated selfing to make highly inbred marijuana and hemp lines. The lines were instrumental in deterring the physical order of the genes.”

Ancestry-painted chromosomes for hemp Image: Chris Grassa / Sunrise Genetics

After finishing up some experiments, they expect to get the genome map published on public domain in less than a year, opening up their research to the general public and allowing breeders and growers to use their data. “This will be a very significant publication,” says Schwartz. “The genome assembly allows for the assimilation of all the currently incompatible Cannabis genome sequence datasets from academia and private companies,” says Schwartz. “Joining datasets from 1000s of strains, and from every continent, will generate an essential public resource for cannabis researchers and aficionados alike.” With a tool like this, we can discover the genes that help produce desirable traits. “This project is a major accomplishment for cannabis, bringing it on par with other important crops, providing a scientific tool to unravel the secrets of this incredibly versatile plant,” says Schwartz.

Sunrise Genetics is assisting cannabis businesses in evaluating strains and developing breeding programs, working with a number of customers currently to develop strains for many different specific traits. “We have the expertise to help select parental strains and guide the selection process at each generation using genotype and phenotype information,” says Schwartz. “Essentially we are bringing all the tools any modern plant breeder would use for improving strawberries to cannabis.”

Dr. Zacariah Hildenbrand
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Cannabis and the Environment: Navigating the Interplay Between Genetics and Transcriptomics

By Dr. Zacariah Hildenbrand
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Dr. Zacariah Hildenbrand

It is that time of year where the holidays afford us an opportunity for rest, recuperation and introspection. Becoming a new father to a healthy baby girl and having the privilege to make a living as a scientist, fills me with an immeasurable sense of appreciation and indebtedness. I’ve also been extremely fortunate this year to spend significant time with world-renowned cannabis experts, such as Christian West, Adam Jacques and Elton Prince, whom have shared with me a tremendous wealth of their knowledge about cannabis cultivation and the development of unique cannabis genetics. Neither of these gentlemen have formal scientific training in plant genetics; however, through decades of experimentation, observation and implementation, they’ve very elegantly used alchemy and the principles of Mendelian genetics to push the boundaries of cannabis genetics, ultimately modulating the expression of specific cannabinoids and terpenes. Hearing of their successes (and failures) has triggered significant wonderment and curiosity with respect to what can be done beyond the genetic level to keep pushing the equilibrium in this new frontier of medicine.

Lighting conditions can greatly impact the expression of terpenes (and cannabinoids) in cannabis.Of course genetics are the foundation for the production of premium cannabis. Without the proper genetic code, one cannot expect the cannabis plant to express the target constituents of interest. However, what happens when you have an elite genetic code, the holy grail of cannabis nucleotides if you will, and yet your plant does not produce the therapeutic compounds that you want and/or that are reflective of that elite genetic code? This ‘loss in translation’ can be explained by transcriptomics, and more specifically, epigenetics. In order for the genetic code (DNA) to be expressed as a gene product (RNA), it must be transcribed, a process that is modulated by epigenetic processes like DNA methylation and histone modification. In other words, the methylation of the genetic code can dictate whether or not a particular segment of DNA is transcribed into RNA, and ultimately expressed in the plant. To put this into context, if the DNA code for the enzyme THCA synthase is epigenetically silenced, then no THCA synthase is produced, your cannabis cannot convert CBGA into THCA, and now you have hemp that is devoid of THC.So what is the best lighting technology to enhance the expression of terpenes? 

With all of that being said, how do we ensure that our plants thrive under favorable epigenetic conditions? The answer is the environment; and the expression of terpenes is an ideal indicator of favorable environmental conditions. While amazing anti-inflammatories, anti-oxidants and metabolic regulators for humans, terpenes are also extremely powerful anti-microbial agents that act as a robust a line of defense for the plant against bacteria and pests. So, if the threat of microbes can induce the expression of terpenes, then what about other environmental factors? I am of the opinion that the combination of increased exposure to bacteria and natural sunlight enhances the expression of terpenes in outdoor-grown cannabis compared to indoor-grown cannabis. This is strictly my opinion based off of my own qualitative observations, but the point being is that lighting conditions can greatly impact the expression of terpenes (and cannabinoids) in cannabis.

A plant in flowering under an LED fixture

So what is the best lighting technology to enhance the expression of terpenes? Do I use full spectrum lighting or specific frequencies? The answer to these questions is that we don’t fully know at this point. Thanks to the McCree curve we have a fundamental understanding of the various frequencies within the visible light spectrum (400-700nm) that are beneficial to plants, also known as Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR). However, little-to-no research has been conducted to determine the impacts that the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum (also categorized as ‘light’) may have on plants. As such, we do not know with 100% certainty what frequencies should be applied, and at what times in the growth cycle, to completely optimize terpene concentrations. This is not to disparage the lighting professionals out there that have significant expertise in this field; however, I’m calling for the execution of peer-reviewed experiments that would transcend the boundaries of company white papers and anecdotal claims. In my opinion, this lack of environmental data provides a real opportunity for the cannabis industry to initiate the required collaborations between cannabis geneticists, technology companies and environmental scientists. This is one field of research that I wish to pursue with tenacity and I also welcome other interested parties to join me in this data quest. Together we can better understand the environmental factors, such as lighting, that are acting as the molecular light switches at the interface of genetics and transcriptomics in cannabis.