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control the room environment

Food Safety: What it Means and How ERP Helps Edibles Manufacturers

By Daniel Erickson
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control the room environment

The diverse cannabis industry has experienced tremendous growth, especially in the popular edibles market whether consumed recreationally or medicinally. Since these cannabis-infused food and beverage products come in a variety of forms, including candies, baked goods, energy drinks, chips, chocolates and teas, food safety questions and concerns for companies manufacturing these products can seem daunting. ERP software solutions designed for the cannabis industry play an imperative and necessary role in addressing key food safety issues for edibles producers, helping to fill in the gaps where new and established businesses struggle. By mitigating the potential for damaging effects of a food safety event, companies can prevent, or greatly lessen the impact, to both their reputation and public perception, as well as limit the financial liability and legal penalties.

What is safety?

On a fundamental level, safety is the state of being protected from undergoing or causing hurt, injury or loss. As a manufacturer of cannabis edibles, it is critical that products are consistent, labeled appropriately and safe for consumers. Forward-thinking companies are employing ERP solutions to help ensure their products are not harmful to their current and future customers.

FDAlogoA lack of safety in the cannabis edibles market stems from the unregulated nature of the industry on a federal level, despite consumers’ expectations otherwise. Similar to products in the food and beverage industry, safety issues with inaccurate labeling, food-borne pathogens and disease outbreaks are all concerns within the manufacturing environment. Particularly to cannabis businesses, extraction methods, bacteria and mold growth, pest and pesticide contamination, chemical exposure, improper employee handling and the unintentional consumption or overconsumption of edibles are all potential safety concerns. In states where edible products are legal, local municipalities and state governments each have their own unique regulations – requiring manufacturers to comply to different guidelines. With the absence of federal regulations, many cannabis companies have adopted a more conservative approach to food safety. Following U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines and Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) best practices allows manufacturers to address key current food safety issues and prepare for future regulation.

Utilize Best Practices and ERPGMP

Introducing current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP’s) traditionally implemented in the food and beverage industry help to form a foundation for cannabis edibles safety in 9 key areas:

  1. Personnel – As an often-overlooked aspect of cannabis edibles manufacturing, adequate training on procedures to ensure disease control and proper cleanliness is required to maintain a company culture of safety. Advocating for quality standards with proper safety procedures should be a priority for every employee.
  2. Manufacturing Environment – Effective management of the manufacturing environment ensures that facilities are controlled to prevent the contamination of finished goods – restricting extraneous materials such as glass, metal, rubber, etc. from the production floor. Warehouse and office lighting should be adequately maintained so that employees are able to inspect equipment, by-products and finished goods and conduct their jobs effectively.
  3. Sanitary Operations – Physical facilities and all equipment must be maintained in clean and sanitary conditions and kept in good repair to prevent food and beverages from becoming contaminated. Cleaning processes should protect ingredients, work in progress, finished goods and workspaces from potential contamination.
  4. Sanitary Facilities and Controls – Effective control of water, plumbing, sewage disposal and drainage are essential. Staff must have access to adequate handwashing and restroom facilities and employee changing rooms. Restrooms and break rooms should be clean and stocked at all times, while garbage is handled properly and disposed of in a timely manner.
  5. Equipment and Utensils – Properly cleaning and maintaining vats, conveyor belts, shrink wrap machines, blenders, etc. to avoid contamination and allergen cross-contact ensures safe procedures are being followed. A robust sanitation program with defined cleaning schedules should be followed for the sanitizing of utensils and equipment.
  6. Processes and Controls – The manufacturing of edible products should be done in accordance with best practices established in the food and beverage industry, taking account of sanitation, quality control and protection from allergens and contamination. Ongoing testing is conducted to identify sanitation failures and contamination occurrences and ensure items are discarded properly.

    control the room environment
    Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can reduce the risks of contamination
  7. Warehousing and Distribution – Establishing proper storage and transportation processes protects the products from contamination, allergen cross-contact and container deterioration – ensuring proper handling procedures throughout the growing, manufacturing and distribution steps.
  8. Defect Action Levels – Quality control is used to minimize defects by requiring an action response when a problem is discovered. An established response plan demonstrates the proper procedures to follow when defects occur during production.
  9. Holding and Distribution of By-products for use as Animal Food (if applicable) – This applies to food and beverage facilities that either donate or sell a by-product for use as animal food. By-products used for animal consumption that are managed properly remain free from contamination. Accurate labeling should identify by-product by the common or usual name and denote not for human consumption when distributed.

Cannabis-specific ERP solutions efficiently provide the structure, integration and processes to follow cGMP’s to address food safety concerns in all phases of growing, manufacturing and distribution. By automating the documentation of audit trails, edibles companies are equipped with the same tools that food and beverage manufacturers have utilized for decades. Validated procedures and best practices incorporate safety initiatives from cannabis cultivation to the sale of edible products and beyond, offering greater efficiency than manual methods. Since cGMP’s provide a foundation for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) planning, edibles manufacturers are able to take advantage of incorporating control points into the ERP solution to prevent and control hazards before they affect food safety. Having a HACCP Plan, along with proper implementation and adherence to cGMP’s, helps to minimize food safety hazards for edibles manufacturers in the cannabis industry.

Quality and safety in the cannabis edibles market is an area that cannot be ignored, as the consequences for failing to handle hazards are potentially devastating. Savvy cannabis companies are employing best practices of food and beverage manufacturers, including the 9 addressed above, in tandem with an ERP software solution, to effectively navigating this highly competitive market. Paving the way with their commitment to quality and in delivering safe and consistent products to the market demonstrates to customers and investors alike their preparedness for growth.

Steven Burton

Standardization: A Guide Through the Minefield

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton

Now that cannabis edibles have been legalized nationally in Canada, many existing and aspiring license holders have been surprised to discover that they must comply with food safety regulations. This became crystal clear when Health Canada published their Good Production Practices Guide For Cannabis in August 2019.

With this development, it should be obvious to everyone that Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certifications are simply not enough.

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) based preventative control programs are now the absolute minimum and higher levels of certification (GFSI) should be on everyone’s wish list.

HACCP is a methodology that is all about identifying biological, chemical and physical hazards and determining how they will be controlled to mitigate the risk of injury to humans. Recently, bio-terrorism and food fraud hazards have been added to the list and it is a good idea to address quality hazards as well.

The process of developing a HACCP program involves identifying these hazards with respect to ingredients, materials, packaging, processes and cross-contamination points (explicitly required in Canada only). However, it is a specific ingredient hazard that I’d like to talk about here.

HACCPAs this market has emerged, I’ve met with many cannabis companies as the onerous levels of knowledge and effort required to build and maintain an effective HACCP program manually has dawned upon the industry. Many are looking for technological solutions to quickly solve this problem. During these discussions, a curious fact has emerged that set off the food safety alarm klaxons around here.

Most people alive today are too young to remember this but, with few exceptions, the standardization of ingredients is a relatively modern phenomenon. It used to be that the fat content of your milk varied from season to season and cow to cow. Over time, the food industry standardized so that, amazingly, you can now choose between milks with either 1% or 2% fat, a level of precision that would border on miraculous to someone born in the early 20th century.

The standardization of ingredients is important in terms of both quality and safety. Take alcohol for example. We know that a shot of spirits generally contains 40% alcohol. Different products may vary from this standard but, if I pour a shot of my favourite Bowmore No.1 single malt in Canada or Tasmania, this year or 10 years from now, I can expect a consistent effect from the 40% alcohol content of the quantity I’ve imbibed.

Imagine a world in which this was not the case, where one shot would be 40% but the next might be 80%. Things could get out of control quite easily at the 80% level so, to avoid this, distillers monitor and blend their product to ensure they achieve the 40% target, which is called the “standardization marker”.

With respect to cannabis, the obvious standardization marker is THC. During the manufacturing process, edibles manufacturers do not normally add cannabis flower directly into their products but instead add a THC concentrate produced during previous production steps. However, we’ve found that the wisdom of standardizing these concentrates has not yet dawned upon many in the industry, which is alarming at best and dangerous at worst.

The reason for this is that, since cannabis is inherently a heterogeneous plant, one cannot precisely achieve a particular marker value so the outcome of the concentration process is variable. The food industry long ago overcame this problem by blending or diluting to achieve a consistent marker concentration, but the cannabis industry has not yet adopted this advance.

The cannabis edibles industry is still immature and it will take time to bring all the necessary risk mitigation processes into place but one excellent place to start is to seriously consider standardizing concentrates to a THC marker.Instead, manufacturers simply keep track of the strength of each batch of concentrate and then adjust the quantity added to their recipes to achieve the desired THC content. This seems logical on the surface but presents a serious risk from the HACCP perspective, namely a chemical hazard, “Excessive psychoactive compound concentrations due to human error at levels that may be injurious to human health”.

The reality is that workers make mistakes, which is why it is imperative to mitigate the risk of human error insomuch as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to standardize to avoid the scenario where a worker, faced with a row of identical containers that are differentiated only by a tiny bit of text, accidentally grabs the wrong bottle. The error isn’t caught until the product has been shipped, consumed, and reports of hospital visits start coming in after the authorities trace the problem back to you. You must bear the costs of the recall, your reputation has been decimated and your company is floundering on the financial rocks.

US-based Drip More, LP recently found this out the hard way after consumers complained that their product tasted bad, bitter and/or harsh. An investigation determined that excessive nicotine content was the source of the problem and a voluntary recall was initiated. Affected product that had already been sold in 26 states. The costs of this recall have not been tallied but they will be staggering.

The cannabis edibles industry is still immature and it will take time to bring all the necessary risk mitigation processes into place but one excellent place to start is to seriously consider standardizing concentrates to a THC marker. This strategy is cheap, easy and you’ll never be sorry.

Soapbox

3 Food Safety Precautions for Edibles

By Cindy Rice
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You’ve survived seasons of cannabis cultivations, bringing in quality plants in spite of mold, mites, drought and other challenges that had to be conquered. Extraction methods are sometimes challenging, but you are proud to have a cannabinoid extract that can be added into your own products for sale. Edibles are just waiting to be infused with the cannabinoids, for consumers demanding brownies, gummies, tinctures and almost any food and beverage imaginable. You’ve been through the fire, and now the rest is easy peasy, right?

Food processing and sanitation
Avoiding cross contamination should be a priority for edibles manufacturing

Actually, producing edibles may not be so seamless as you think. Just as in the rest of the food industry, food safety practices have to be considered when you’re producing edibles for public consumption, regardless of the THC, CBD, terpene or cannabinoid profile. Once you’ve acquired the extract (a “food grade ingredient”) containing the active compounds, there are three types of hazards that could still contribute to foodborne illness from your final product if you’re not careful- Biological, Chemical and Physical.

Biological hazards include pathogenic bacteria, viruses, mold, mildew (and the toxins that they can produce) that can come in ingredients naturally or contaminate foods from an outside source. Chemical hazards are often present in the kitchen environment, including detergents, floor cleaners, disinfectants and caustic chemicals, which can be harmful if ingested- they are not destroyed through cooking. Physical objects abound in food production facilities, including plastic bits, metal fragments from equipment, staples or twist ties from ingredient packages, and personal objects (e.g., buttons, jewelry, hair, nails.)

There are three main safety precautions that can help control these hazards during all the stages of food production, from receiving ingredients to packaging your final products:

1. Avoid Cross Contamination

  • Prevent biological, chemical or physical hazards from coming into contact with foods
  • Keep equipment, utensils and work surfaces clean and sanitized.
  • Prevent raw foods (as they usually carry bacteria) from coming into contact with “Ready-to-eat” foods (foods that will not be cooked further before consuming).
  • Keep chemicals away from food areas.

2. Personal Hygiene

  • Don’t work around foods if you’re sick with fever, vomiting or diarrhea. These could be signs of contagious illness and can contaminate foods or other staff, and contribute to an outbreak.
  • Do not handle ready-to-eat foods with bare hands, but use a barrier such as utensils, tissues or gloves when handling final products such as pastries or candies.
  • Wash hands and change gloves when soiled or contaminated.
  • Wear hair restraints and clean uniforms, and remove jewelry from hands and arms.

3. Time & Temperature control

  • Prevent bacterial growth in perishable foods such as eggs, dairy, meats, chicken (TCS “Time and Temperature Control for Safety” foods according to the FDA Model Food Code) by keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
  • Refrigerate TCS foods at 41˚ F or below, and cook TCS foods to proper internal temperatures to kill bacteria to safe levels, per state regulations for retail food establishments.
  • If TCS foods have been exposed to room temperature for longer than four hours (Temperature Danger Zone 41˚ F – 135˚ F,) these foods should be discarded, as bacteria could have grown to dangerous levels during this time.

As cannabis companies strive for acceptance and legalization on a federal level, adopting these food safety practices and staff training is a major step in the right direction, on par with standards maintained by the rest of the retail food industry. The only difference is your one specially extracted cannabinoid ingredient that separates you from the rest of the crowd… with safe and healthy edibles for all.

Food processing and sanitation

Sanitation Starting Points: More Than Sweeping the Floors and Wiping Down the Table

By Ellice Ogle
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Food processing and sanitation

Sanitation is not just sweeping the floors and wiping down the table – sanitation has a wide-ranging function in a cannabis food manufacturing facility. For example, sanitation covers the employees (and unwanted pests), food-contact equipment (and non-food-contact equipment), trash disposal (including sewage), and more. Ultimately, sanitation systems maintain a clean environment to prevent foodborne illness from affecting human health. Fortunately, there are resources and tools to ease into establishing a robust sanitation program.

Overall, the main goal of sanitation is to produce safe food, to keep consumers healthy and safe from foodborne illness. With the cannabis industry growing and gaining legalization, 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.

FDAlogoTo produce safe food, food manufacturing facilities in the United States must at least follow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 Chapter I Subchapter B Part 117, current good manufacturing practice, hazard analysis, and risk-based preventive controls for human food. Although cannabis is currently not federally regulated, these regulations are still relevant for a cannabis food manufacturing facility since the same basic principles still apply. Also, these regulations are a good resource to simplify a comprehensive sanitation program into more manageable components, between sanitary operations and sanitary facilities. With more manageable components, the transition is smoother to then identify the appropriate tools that will achieve a thorough sanitation program.

Sanitary operations

1) General maintenance of the facilities: The buildings and fixtures of the food manufacturing facility cover a lot of ground – hiring a maintenance team will divide the responsibility, ensuring the entire facility can be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition. Furthermore, a team can build out a tool like a preventative maintenance program to restrict issues from ever becoming issues.

Figure 1: Dirty Cloth Towel in Dirty “Sanitizer” Solution
Dirty Cloth Towel in Dirty “Sanitizer” Solution (an example of what NOT to do)

2) Control of the chemicals used for cleaning and sanitizing: Not all chemicals are equal – select the appropriate cleaning and sanitizing chemicals from reputable suppliers. Obtain the right knowledge and training on proper use, storage, and proper protective equipment (PPE). This ensures the safe and effective application of the chemicals in minimizing the risk of foodborne illness.

3) Pest control: Understand the environment within the facility and outside the facility. This will aid in identifying the most common or likely pests, in order to focus the pest control efforts. Keep in mind that internal pest management programs can be just as successful as hiring external pest control services.

4) Procedures for sanitation of both food-contact and non-food-contact surfaces: Developing sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs) provides guidance to employees on appropriate cleaning and sanitizing practices, to balance effective and efficient operations. A master sanitation schedule can control the frequency of indicated sanitation procedures.

5) Storage and handling of cleaned portable equipment and utensils: Cross contamination in storage can be minimized with tools such as controlled traffic flow, signage, training, color coding, and more.

Sanitary facilities

6) Water supply, plumbing, and sewage disposal: Routine inspections of plumbing, floor drainage, and sewage systems prevent unintended water flow and damage.

7) Toilet facilities: Clearly defining standards for the toilet facilities and setting accountability to everyone who uses them will ensure that the toilet facilities are not a source of contamination for the food products.

Food processing and sanitation
PPE for all employees at every stage of processing is essential

8) Hand-washing facilities: Good manufacturing practices (GMPs) include proper hand washing and proper hand washing starts with suitable hand-washing facilities. For example, frequent checks on running water, hand soap, and single use towels ensure that all hands are clean and ready to produce safe food.

9) Trash disposal: While trash can be a source of cross contamination, trash can also attract and harbor pests. Scheduling regular trash disposal and controlling traffic flow of waste are two ways to minimize the risk of cross contamination from trash.

Bonus

Even after meeting these requirements, sanitation programs can be more sophisticated. An example is to institute an environmental monitoring program to verify and validate that the sanitation program is effective. Another example is in identifying and measuring key performance indicators (KPIs) within the sanitation program that can improve not just the sanitation processes, but the operations as a whole. Principally, sanitation is cleanliness on the most basic level, but waste management can encompass sanitation and grow into a larger discussion on sustainability. All in all, sanitation programs must reshape and evolve alongside the company growth.

Sanitation is interwoven throughout the food manufacturing process; sanitation is not a single task to be carried out by a sole individual. 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.