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Ask the Experts: Microbiological Contamination in Cannabis & What You Should Look for

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Testing cannabis and cannabis derived products for microbiological contamination should be a straightforward conversation for testing labs and producers. However, a patchwork of regulations and a wide variety of perspectives on what we should, or should not, be looking for has left much of the cannabis industry searching for reliable answers.

Organizations like the AOAC are taking the first crack at creating standardization in the field but there is still a long way to go. In this conversation, we would like to discuss the general requirements that almost all states share and where we see the industry headed as jurisdictions start to conform to the recommendations of national organizations like AOAC.

We sat down with Anna Klavins and Jessa Youngblood, two cannabis testing experts at Hardy Diagnostics, to get their thoughts on microbiology testing in the current state of the cannabis industry.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing cannabis testing labs when it comes to microbiology?

The CompactDry Yeast and Mold Rapid plate provides fast results.

Anna Klavins & Jessa Youngblood: For microbiology testing, it comes down to a lack of standardization and approved methods for cannabis. In the US, cannabis regulation is written on a state-by-state level. As a result, the rules that govern every aspect of bringing these materials to market is as unique and varied as the jurisdiction writing them. When we are speaking specifically about microbiology, the question always comes back to yeast and mold testing. For some, the challenge will often be centered on the four main Aspergillus species of concern – A. terreus, A. niger, A. fumigatus, and A. flavus. For others, it will be the challenges of total count testing with yeast, mold, and bacteria. These issues become even more troublesome by the lack of recognized standard methodology. Typically, we expect the FDA, USP, or some other agency to provide the guidelines for industry – the rules that define what is safe for consumption. Without federal guidance, however, we are often in a situation where labs are required to figure out how to perform these tests on their own. This becomes a very real hurdle for many programs.

Q: Why is it important to use two different technologies to achieve confirmation?

Dichloran Rose Bengal Chloramphenicol (DRBC) Agar is recommended for the enumeration of yeasts and molds.

Klavins & Youngblood: The push for this approach was borne out of the discussions happening within the industry. Scientists and specialists from across disciplines started getting together and creating groups to start to hash out problems which had arisen due to a lack of standardization. In regards to cannabis testing, implementing a single method for obtaining microbiology results could be unreliable. When clients compared results across labs, the inconsistencies became even more problematic and began to erode trust in the industry. As groups discussed the best way to prove the efficacy of their testing protocol, it quickly became apparent that relying on a single testing method was going to be inadequate. When labs use two different technologies for microbiology testing, they are able to eliminate the likelihood of false positives or false negatives, whichever the case may be. In essence, the cannabis testing laboratories would be best off looking into algorithms of detecting organisms of interest. This is the type of laboratory testing modeled in other industries and these models are starting make their way into the cannabis testing space. This approach is common in many food and pharma applications and makes sense for the fledgling cannabis market as well.

About Anna Klavins

Anna Klavins earned a Molecular and Cellular Biology B.S. degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo while playing for the Cal Poly Division I NCAA women’s tennis team. Since joining Hardy Diagnostics in mid-2016, she has gained experience in FDA submissions [510(k)] for class II microbiology in vitro devices. She has worked on 15 projects which led to a microbiology device becoming FDA cleared. She has recently begun participating in the AOAC Performance Tested Methods program.

 

About Jessa Youngblood

Jessa Youngblood is the Food, Beverage and Cannabis Market Coordinator for Hardy Diagnostics. A specialist in the field of cannabis microbiology for regulatory compliance, she is seated with the AOAC CASP committee working on standard methods for microbiological testing in cannabis and hemp. She also sits on the NCIA Scientific Advisory Council as well as the ASTM Cannabis Council.

Content sponsored by Hardy Diagnostics.

Sequoia Analytical Labs Caught Falsifying Results

By Aaron G. Biros
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Last month, Sequoia Analytical Labs admitted that they falsified hundreds of pesticide tests for batches of cannabis products. The Sacramento-based laboratory faked data on 22 different pesticide tests for more than 700 batches over a period of four months.

According to a notice posted on Sequoia’s website, the skewed results were originally found due to a “faulty instrument” but “it was further discovered” that the lab director knew about it and was fraudulently posting the results in order to hand out certificates of analysis. The lab director in question has since been fired and Sequoia voluntarily relinquished their state license.

Joe Devlin, Sacramento’s chief of cannabis enforcement, told KCRA3 News “We’re going to be taking a look at suspending or possibly revoking their permit.” He followed that up with saying that California needs more testing labs. “The shortage of labs has really created a bottleneck in the supply chain across the state,” says Devlin. There are only 43 licensed laboratories in the state of California as of this time, and just three of those are in Sacramento.

The Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), the regulatory authority overseeing the cannabis testing market in California, has not commented on this story, but they did reach out to distributors who had sent batches to Sequoia for testing. “Any cannabis goods from these batches, returned by consumers to the retailer, must be destroyed,” reads the BCC letter. “Any cannabis goods returned from a retailer’s inventory or remaining in your inventory may be destroyed, or may be re-sampled and re-tested after obtaining approval from the Bureau. Any cannabis goods from these batches may not be released to a retailer without re-sampling and re-testing.”

Sequoia Analytical Labs posted two notices on their homepage, one was a letter to their clients informing them of the fraud and the other is that BCC letter to distributors doing the same. “Management and ownership were horrified to learn about this severe breach of a very important safety regulation,” reads the notice. “We have voluntarily surrendered our license to do COA testing to the BCC while we make the required corrections. We are already hard at work making the needed changes to the instrument and revamping procedures so that we may get our license reinstated January 1.”

As of today, the lab’s license has not been reinstated.