Tag Archives: QA

Arizona To Implement Mandatory Lab Testing

By Aaron G. Biros
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Good news came to patients using medical cannabis in Arizona earlier this week: Lawmakers in Arizona unanimously passed SB1494 through the state’s House and Senate, the bill requiring mandatory lab testing for medical cannabis products. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is expected to sign the bill and has ten days to do so.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey

When Governor Ducey signs the bill into law it will mark the first time since the state legalized medical cannabis in 2011 that a measure to protect patient safety via lab testing will be implemented. According to the bill, beginning November 1, 2020, all cannabis products shall be tested prior to sales “to determine unsafe levels of microbial contamination, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, growth regulators and residual solvents and confirm the potency of the marijuana to be dispensed,” (Page 6, Section 36-2803).

The bill requires dispensaries to provide test results to patients immediately upon request. Dispensaries need to display a sign notifying patients of their right to see “certified independent third-party laboratory test results for marijuana and marijuana products for medical use,” according to the text of the bill (Page 7, Section 36-2803.01).“There will have to be some serious planning, but other states have achieved this and we can too.”

Under the new bill, the Arizona Department of Health Services will adopt rules to certify and regulate labs, establishing requirements like health and safety protocols, mandatory quality assurance program and standards, chain of custody and sampling policies, adequate records, accreditation, proficiency testing, among other requirements (Page 6-7, Section 36-2803).

Ryan Treacy, co-founder of the Arizona Cannabis Laboratory Association (ACLA) and CEO/Founder of C4 Laboratories, says this is a major turning point for Arizona’s cannabis industry. “We have been devoid of regulations with regard to testing the entirety of the program since it was legalized; This will be a significant change,” says Treacy. “Now patients can make sure they are getting a safe and clean product and getting exactly what they paid for.”

For those in the know when it comes to cannabis testing in the United States, the new requirements will look very similar to other states with testing requirements. One particularly unique aspect of the new program, however, is the establishment of a “Medical Marijuana Testing Advisory Council,” made up of stakeholders representing different interests in Arizona’s cannabis industry. Members of the council will include representatives from dispensaries, labs, cultivators, concentrate producers, edibles producers, as well as registered patients, caregivers, a representative from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, a licensed health care provider and “any other members deemed necessary by the director,” reads the text of the bill (page 16, Section 36-2821).

Ryan Tracy, co-founder of the ACLA and founder/CEO at C4 Labs.

“Other states like California have complained about detection limits, while Arizona is taking a unique approach with an advisory council with stakeholders in the cannabis industry,” says Treacy. “So that when the Department of Health Services promulgates rules, they are taking into account the challenges in the cannabis industry specifically. We have a chance to do this right and avoid pitfalls we’ve seen in other states.”

One problem worth mentioning for Arizona’s cannabis industry: Dispensaries have not been required to test products for patients since medical cannabis was legalized back in 2011. That means many producers could be very used to operating procedures that don’t account for lab testing. With mandatory lab testing, some producers may be behind the curve when it comes to mitigating contamination.

According to Treacy, this could disrupt the supply chain a little bit. “When testing becomes mandatory in November 2020, dispensaries will need a full panel of tests performed on their samples,” says Treacy. “With the entire market now required to complete a full panel in depth analysis on each product, product testing will become a more time-consuming stop in the supply chain. So companies will need to work that into their plan to meet regulation requirements to prevent a bottleneck and maintain patients’ access to their cannabis medicine.”

Arizona has a chance to prevent that type of bottleneck seen in states that implemented testing requirements, like California for example. “When you have a habitual history of not testing products, it can be very hard to change, which adds to Arizona’s challenges,” says Treacy. “We need to make sure this does not affect access for patients and the ability of the industry to continue to flourish and grow.”

While Treacy thinks the transition will be difficult for some, it’s absolutely necessary for Arizona’s patients to access clean and safe medicine. “There will have to be some serious planning, but other states have achieved this and we can too.”

The Need for Standardization in Medical Cannabis Testing

By Andrew James
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There has been a move towards the legalization of cannabis for medical and/or recreational use across many countries and US states in recent years, leading to greater demand for accurate potency and safety testing. Despite this, there are currently no standardized regulations between states or countries for quality control including content, composition, adulterants, potency or levels of toxic residues. As such, in many cases where regulations are in place, testing is generally carried out at a small number of approved independent testing laboratories.

The need for self-regulation has led to the growth of portable gas chromatography (GC) being used in the field of cannabis testing.This lack of clarity makes it difficult for consumers to make informed decisions about what they are purchasing, an issue which could be damaging to the industry’s changing reputation. As it stands, producers of cannabis and cannabis-derived products can supply goods with potentially harmful contaminants such as fungi or pesticide residues, which are potentially threatening to human health. Most cannabis products sold legally in the US are required to be tested and labelled for THC, the chemical responsible for most of cannabis’s psychoactive effects. A US study found that as few as 20% of recreational cannabis products are accurately labelled with only 17% of products reviewed accurately labelled for THC content (i.e. within 10% of the labeled value). It also found 23% were under labelled, and 60% were over labelled.

If cannabis were to be categorized as a regulated pharmaceutical drug, it would be rigorously tested to comply with stringent rules and regulations regarding quality and safety of the product, as are all other drugs. However, as there is currently no centralized regulatory body that oversees this, the responsibility of quality assurance falls to the grower, manufacturer and sometimes the consumer.

The Need for Cannabis Analysis

The most common requirement when testing cannabis is positive identification and quantification of the total THC:CBD ratio. In a highly competitive marketplace, this information is important, as cannabis consumers tend to equate THC levels with price. In many instances, lower THC products are cheaper and higher THC concentrations make products more expensive. Without robust systems in place for sufficient testing, this information cannot be accurately determined, meaning the customer often cannot make an informed decision.

Pesticide use is surprisingly common in the cannabis cultivation industry

In addition to potency testing, one of the core issues facing the industry and by extension, the end consumer, is the prevalence of pesticides in cannabis products. In the Netherlands, the Ministry of Environment and Health reported that over 90% of cannabis plants tested had pesticides on them. While steps have been taken to tackle this, the lack of cohesion in testing standards combined with the onus on individual labs to carry out testing, has led to some issues within the industry.

Many individual retailers in the U.S. and internationally are self-testing for impurities such as pesticides, heavy metals and microbials. While there is a clear need for standard testing across all locations, the need for self-regulation at present has led to the growth of portable gas chromatography (GC) being used in the field of cannabis testing.

Using GC as an analytical tool 

With the increased need for quality control and quality assurance in the largely unregulated cannabis industry, technology is now more accessible to smaller companies and to people with minimal laboratory experience. There are a range of cannabis testing packages available for smaller individual labs which offer more mobile testing with affordable packages. The lower entry price makes GC analysis affordable for more laboratories while still delivering reliable, high quality results.

Portable GC instruments can offer high quality potency testing, pesticide screening, terpene and flavor profiling, and residual solvents analysis. These instruments can give growers and processors an accurate result of cannabinoid percentages, a fundamental piece of information for growers and dispensaries. Systems can be configured for manual injection or a range of autosampler options can be added.

The structure of cannabidiol (CBD), one of 400 active compounds found in cannabis.

GC enables the rapid and accurate identification and quantification of the THC:CBD ratio. This is important for companies which are carrying out self-testing as it allows their customers to have assurances in the short term over the quality of their product, as well as reducing any potential risks to public health.

An example of this in practice is the use of GC by Dutch company Shamanics which carries out testing service for coffee shops in the Netherlands. The company conducts terpene analysis and potency testing to assure the quality of the products it supplies, with a portable GC, which offers the flexibility required without any established guidelines on testing in place.

When testing for potency using the GC, they look for total THC and CBD by converting the acidified versions of the cannabinoids into neutral forms within the heat of the GC injector. The process has flexibility which means that if they need to see both the acidified and neutral versions, they can do this by derivatizing the sample. The accuracy of this process is crucial to Shamanics and similar companies within the industry so that they can accurately judge the quality of a product, and relay this information to retailers and consumers.

The future of GC in standardized testing

While the growing availability of portable GC instruments and the increasing sophistication of individual labs means more companies are able to self-test products, there is still a significant hurdle to overcome in terms of standardising and regulating both the medical and recreational cannabis markets. Where regulation is brought in it should be consistent across states and countries and most importantly, it should be monitored and enforced. In the meantime, responsible producers are using the technology available to them to provide consumers with guarantees that their cannabis products are safe and of a high quality.

Health Canada Issues Voluntary Cannabis Recall Guide

By Marguerite Arnold
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Last month, Health Canada published a Voluntary Recall Guide to help producers not only stay in compliance but run their operations better. While it will certainly prove to be a critically useful guide for Canadian LPs who are now subject to domestic regulations, it is also a highly useful document for others. Namely, newly legalizing U.S. states and even European countries now looking for guidance on how to shape, structure and regulate their own burgeoning domestic cultivation markets either underway now or about to start.

What Is Of Particular Interest?

While it may sound like a no-brainer, the guide lays out, albeit in very broad strokes, the kinds of procedures all licensed producers should be implementing anyway to efficiently run a compliant business.

It could be considered, on one level, a critical start-up business guide for those still looking for guidance in Canada (as well as elsewhere). Domestically, the document is clearly a handy template, if not something to create checklists from, in setting up a vital and at this point, mandatory part of a compliant cultivation facility in Canada.

The guide also covers not only domestically distributed product but that bound for export.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the guide is also how low tech it is. For example, the guide suggests that a license holder responsible for recall notices, plan on quick response methods that include everything from a self-addressed postcard to an email acknowledgement link.

That said, recalls must be reported to the government exclusively via an email address (no mail drop is listed). And suggestions about media outlets to which to submit recall notices are noticeably digitally heavy. Websites and social media platforms are suggested as the first two options of posting a recall. Posters at retailers is listed dead last.

What is also notable, not to mention commendable, is the inclusion of how to include supply chain partners in recall notices, as well as the mandate to do it in the first place.

Also Of Note

Also excellent is the attempt to begin to set a checklist and process about evaluating both the process of the recall itself and further identification of future best practices.Health Canada also expects companies to show proof of follow up efforts to reach non-responders all along the supply chain.

For example, the report suggests that LPs obtain not only feedback from both their supply chain and consumers involved, but elicit information on how such entities and individuals received the information in the first place. Further, the volume of responses (especially from end consumers) or lack thereof should be examined specifically to understand how effective the outreach effort actually was in reaching its target audience.

This is especially important because Health Canada also expects companies to show proof of follow up efforts to reach non-responders all along the supply chain.

Regulatory Reporting Guidelines

One of the reasons that this guide is so useful is that Health Canada also expects to receive full written reports touching upon all of the issues it lays out within 30 days of the recall announcement itself.

In turn, this is also a clear attempt to begin to start to document quality controls and attempts to correct the same quickly in an industry still plagued by product quality issues, particularly at home, but with an eye to overseas markets.

As such, it will also prove invaluable to other entities, far beyond Canadian LPs involved in the process this document lays out. Namely, it is a good comprehensive, but easy to follow and generally applicable guide for new states (in the case of the US) if not national governments in Europe and beyond who are now starting to look at regulating their own burgeoning industries from the ground up.

Dr. Ed Askew
From The Lab

Quality Plans for Lab Services: Managing Risks as a Grower, Processor or Dispensary, Part 5

By Dr. Edward F. Askew
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Dr. Ed Askew

Protection in the Court of Public Opinion

In the last four articles, I have outlined areas that impact your operations as they apply to laboratory quality programs. But this article will take a different path. It will focus on protecting your crop and brand along with any business that utilizes your crop, such as dispensaries or edible manufactures in the court of public opinion.

Now, the elephant in the room for cannabis companies is the difference between rules written by the state and their enforcement by the state. There are many anecdotal stories out there that can be used as case studies in identifying ways to protect your brand. Remember, consumers and the media caught them, not the regulators.

Cheating in the cannabis industry: growers, dispensaries, edibles manufactures, etc. This includes:

  1. Finding laboratories that will produce results that the client wants (higher potency numbers)
  2. Not testing for a particular contaminant that may be present in the cannabis product.
  3. Selling failed crops on the gray or black market.
  4. Claiming to regulators that the state rules are unclear and cannot be followed (e.g. So, give me another chance, officer)

So why should you be worried? Because, even if the state where you operate fails to enforce its own rules, the final end-user of your product will hold you accountable! If you produce any cannabis product and fail to consider these end-users, you will be found out in the court of public opinion by either the media or by the even more effective word of mouth (e.g. Social Media).

So, let’s take a look at some recent examples of these problems:

  1. “Fungus In Medical Marijuana Eyed As Possible Cause In California Man’s Death”
  2. “Pesticides and Pot: What’s California Smoking?”
  3. Buyers beware: California cannabis sold Jan. 1 could be tainted”

Each of these reports lists contamination by microbial stains or pesticides as being rampant within the California market whose products are used for medical or recreational use. Just imagine the monetary losses these cannabis businesses faced for their recalled cannabis product when they got caught. Remember, consumers and the media caught them, not the regulators.Institute a quality program in your business immediately.

How can you be caught? There are many different ways:

  1. Consumer complaints to the media
  2. Secret shopper campaigns (more to come on that in the next article)
  3. Media investigations
  4. Social media campaigns

What are the effects on your business? Product recalls such as these two to hit the California market recently.

So, what should you do to produce an acceptable product and provide reasonable protection to your cannabis business? Institute a quality program in your business immediately. This quality program will include areas of quality assurance and quality control for at least these areas.

  1. Growing
  2. Processing or formulating
  3. Shipping
  4. Dispensing
  5. Security
  6. Training of staff
  7. Laboratory services

Setting up and supporting these programs requires that your upper management impose both a rigorous training program and make employee compliance mandatory. Otherwise, your business will have an unreasonable risk of failure in the future.

Further information on preparing and instituting these types of quality assurance and quality control programs within your business can be found at the author’s website.

Dr. Ed Askew
From The Lab

Quality Plans for Lab Services: Managing Risks as a Grower, Processor or Dispensary, Part 4

By Dr. Edward F. Askew
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Dr. Ed Askew

In the last three articles, I discussed the laboratory’s responses or defenses used to reply to your questions about laboratory results that place stress on the success of your business. The Quality Control (QC) results can cause this stress if they are not run correctly to answer the following questions:

  1. Are the laboratory results really true?
  2. Can the laboratory accurately analyze sample products like my sample?
  3. Can the laboratory reproduce the sample results for my type of sample?

Now let’s discuss the most important QC test that will protect your crop and business. That QC sample is the Matrix Sample. In the last article in this series, you were introduced to many QC samples. The Matrix Sample and Duplicate were some of them. Take a look back at Part 3 to familiarize yourself with the definitions.

The key factors of these QC sample types are:

  1. Your sample is used to determine if the analysis used by the laboratory can extract the analyte that is being reported back to you. This is performed by the following steps:
    1. Your sample is analyzed by the laboratory as received.
    2. Then a sub-sample of your sample is spiked with a known concentration of the analyte you are looking for (e.g. pesticides, bacteria, organic chemicals, etc.).
    3. The difference between the sample with and without a spike indicates whether the laboratory can even find the analyte of concern and whether the percent recovery is acceptable.
    4. Examples of failures are from my experiences:
      1. Laboratory 1 spiked a known amount of a pesticide into a wastewater matrix. (e.g. Silver into final treatment process water). The laboratory failed to recover any of the spiked silver. Therefore the laboratory results for these types of sample were not reporting any silver, but silver may be present. This is where laboratory results would be false negatives and the laboratory method may not work on the matrix (your sample) correctly. .
      2. Laboratory 2 ran an analysis for a toxic compound (e.g. Cyanide in final waste treatment discharge). A known amount of cyanide was spiked into a matrix sample and 4 times the actual concentration of that cyanide spike was recovered. This is where laboratory results would be called false positives and the laboratory method may not work on the matrix (your sample) correctly.
  2. Can the laboratory reproduce the results they reported to you?
    1. The laboratory needs to repeat the matrix spike analysis to provide duplicate results. Then a comparison of the results from the first matrix spike with its duplicate results will show if the laboratory can duplicate their test on your sample.
      1. If the original matrix spike result and the duplicate show good agreement (e.g. 20% relative percent difference or lower). Then you can be relatively sure that the result you obtained from the laboratory is true.
      2. But, if the original matrix spike result and the duplicate do not show good agreement (e.g. greater than 20% relative percent difference). Then you can be sure that the result you obtained from the laboratory is not true and you should question the laboratory’s competence.

Now, the question is why a laboratory would not perform these matrix spike and duplicate QC samples? Well, the following may apply:

  1. These matrix samples take too much time.
  2. These matrix samples add a cost that the laboratory cannot recover.
  3. These matrix samples are too difficult for the laboratory staff to perform.
  4. Most importantly: Matrix samples show the laboratory cannot perform the analyses correctly on the matrix.

So, what types of cannabis matrices are out there? Some examples include bud, leaf, oils, extracts and edibles. Those are some of the matrices and each one has their own testing requirements. So, what should you require from your laboratory?

  1. The laboratory must use your sample for both a matrix spike and a duplicate QC sample.
  2. The percent recovery of both the matrix spike and the duplicate will be between 80% and 120%. If either of the QC samples fail, then you should be notified immediately and the samples reanalyzed.
  3. If the relative percent difference between the matrix spike and the duplicate will be 20% or less. If the QC samples fail, then you should be notified immediately and the samples should be reanalyzed.

The impact of questionable laboratory results on your business with failing or absent matrix spike and the duplicate QC samples can be prevented. It is paramount that you hold the laboratory responsible to produce results that are representative of your sample matrix and that are true.

The next article will focus on how your business will develop a quality plan for your laboratory service provider with a specific focus on the California Code Of Regulations, Title 16, Division 42. Bureau Of Cannabis Control requirements.

Orange Photonics Introduces Terpenes+ Module in Portable Analyzer

By Aaron G. Biros
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Last week at the National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) Cannabis Business Summit, Orange Photonics unveiled their newest product added to their suite of testing instruments for quality assurance in the field. The Terpenes+ Module for the LightLab Cannabis Analyzer, which semi-quantitatively measures terpenes, Cannabichromene (CBC) and degraded THC, adds three new chemical analyses to the six cannabinoids it already reports.

CBC, a cannabinoid typically seen in hemp and CBD-rich plants, has been linked to some potentially impactful medical applications, much like the findings regarding the benefits of CBD. The module that tests for it, along with terpenes and degraded THC, can be added to the LightLab without any changes to hardware or sample preparation.

Dylan Wilks, chief technology officer of Orange Photonics
Dylan Wilks, chief technology officer of Orange Photonics

According to Dylan Wilks, chief technology officer of Orange Photonics, this could be a particularly useful tool for distillate producers looking for extra quality controls. Cannabis distillates are some of the most prized cannabis products around, but the heat used to create them can also create undesirable compounds,” says Wilks. “Distillate producers can see potency drop more than 25% if their process isn’t optimized”. With this new Terpenes+ Module, a distillate producer could quantify degraded THC content and get an accurate reading for their QC/QA department.

We spoke with Stephanie McArdle, president of Orange Photonics, to learn more about their instruments designed for quality assurance for growers and extractors alike.

Stephanie McArdle, president of Orange Photonics
Stephanie McArdle, president of Orange Photonics

According to McArdle, this could help cultivators and processors understand and value their product when terpene-rich products are the end goal. “Rather than try to duplicate the laboratory analysis, which would require expensive equipment and difficult sample preparation, we took a different approach. We report all terpenes as a single total terpene number,” says McArdle. “The analyzer only looks for monoterpenes (some common monoterpenes are myrcene, limonene and alpha-pinene), and not sesquiterpenes (the other major group of cannabis terpenes, such as Beta- Caryophyllene and Humulene) so the analysis is semi-quantitative. What we do is measure the monoterpenes and make an assumption that the sesquiterpenes are similar to an average cannabis plant to calculate a total terpene content.” She says because roughly 80% of terpenes found in cannabis are monoterpenes, this should produce accurate results, though some exotic strains may not result in accurate terpene content using this method.

The LIghtLab analyzer on the workbench
The LIghtLab analyzer on the workbench

As growers look to make their product unique in a highly competitive market, many are looking at terpenes as a source of differentiation. There are a variety of areas where growers can target higher terpene production, McArdle says. “During production, a grower may want to select plants for growing based on terpene content, or adjust nutrient levels, lighting, etc. to maximize terpenes,” says McArdle. “During the curing process, adjusting the environmental conditions to maximize terpene content is highly desirable.” Terpenes are also beginning to get recognized for their potential medical and therapeutic values as well, notably as an essential piece in the Entourage Effect. “Ultimately, it comes down to economics – terpene rich products have a higher market value,” says McArdle. “If you’re the grower, you want to prove that your product is superior. If you’re the buyer, you want to ensure the product you buy is high quality before processing it into other products. In both cases, knowing the terpene content is critical to ensuring you’re maximizing profits.”

Orange Photonics’ LightLab operates very similarly to instruments you might find in a cannabis laboratory. Many cannabis testing labs use High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) to analyze hemp or cannabis samples. “The primary difference between LightLab and an HPLC is that we operate at lower pressures and rely on spectroscopy more heavily than a typical HPLC analysis does,” says McArdle. “Like an HPLC, LightLab pushes an extracted cannabis sample through a column. The column separates the cannabinoids in the sample by slowing down cannabinoids by different amounts based on their affinity to the column.” McArdle says this is what allows each cannabinoid to exit the column at a different time. “For example, CBD may exit the column first, then D9THC and so on,” says McArdle. “Once the column separates the cannabinoids, they are quantified using optical spectroscopy- basically we are using light to do the final quantification.”

Dr. Ed Askew
From The Lab

Quality Plans for Lab Services: Managing Risks as a Grower, Processor or Dispensary, Part 2

By Dr. Edward F. Askew
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Dr. Ed Askew

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. 


In the previous article, I discussed the laboratory’s first line of defense (e.g. certification or accreditation) when a grower, processor or dispensary (user) questions a laboratory result. Now let us look behind this paperwork wall to the laboratory culture the user will encounter once their complaint is filtered past the first line of defense.

It is up to the client (processor, grower or dispensary) to determine the quality of the lab they use.In an ISO 17025 (2005 or 2017) and TNI accreditation, the laboratory must be organized into management, quality and technical areas. Each area can overlap as in the ISO 17025-2017 standard or be required to remain as separate sections in the laboratory as in the ISO 17025-2005 or TNI 2009 standards. ISO 17025 standards (e.g. 2005 and 2017) specifically require a separation of monetary benefits for laboratory results as it applies to the technical staff. This “conflict of interest” (CoI) is not always clearly defined in the laboratory’s day-to-day practices.

One example that I have experienced with this CoI separation violation goes back to my days as a laboratory troubleshooter in the 1990s. I was called into a laboratory that was failing to meet their Department of Defense (DoD) contract for volatile organic hydrocarbon analyses (VOAs) of soil samples by purge trap-gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy. I was required to “fix” the problem. What I determined was:

  • The analytical chemists performing the VOAs analyses were high school graduates with no coursework in chemistry or biology.
  • There was no training program in place for these analysts in instrument use, instrument troubleshooting and interpretation of the analytical results.
  • The only training the analysts received was for simple instrument set-up and basic instrument computer software use. (e.g. Push this button and send results to clerks)
  • Clerks with a high school degree and no analytical chemistry training in the business office generated the final reports and certified them as accurate and complete.

None of the staff was technically competent to perform any in-depth VOAs analytical work nor was the clerical staff competent to certify the results reported.

When I pointed out these discrepancies to the laboratory management, they declined to make any changes. The laboratory management had a direct monetary interest in completing all analyses at the lowest costs within the time limit set by DoD. If the laboratory did not complete the analyses as per the DoD contract, DoD would cancel the contract and not pay the laboratory.

The DoD, in a “Double Blind” test sample, later caught this laboratory.. A Double Blind test sample is used to check to see if the laboratory is performing the tests correctly. The laboratory does not know it is a test sample. So if the laboratory is cheating, they will be caught.This does not mean that all laboratories have staff or management issues

Once the laboratory was caught by DoD with the Double Blind, laboratory management claimed they were unaware of this behavior and management fired all analytical staff performing VOAs and clerical staff reporting the VOAs results to show DoD that it was a rogue group of individuals and not the laboratory management. The fired staff members were denied unemployment benefits as they were fired with cause. So, the moral to this story is if the analytical staff and specifically the clerical staff had wanted to hold the laboratory management accountable for this conflict of interest, they may have been fired, but without cause. The staff would have kept their reputation for honesty and collected unemployment benefits.

I have witnessed the “CoI above repeatedly over the last 30+ years both in laboratories where I have been employed and as a consultant. The key laboratory culture problems that lead to these CoI issues can be distilled into the following categories:

  • Financial CoI: In the financial CoI, the laboratory management must turn out so many analytical test results per day to remain financially solvent. The philosophical change that comes over management is that the laboratory is not producing scientific results, but is instead just churning out tests. Therefore, the more tests the laboratory produces, the more money it makes. Any improvement in test output is to be looked upon favorably and anything that diminishes test output is bad. So, to put this in simple terms: “The laboratory will perform the analyses quickly and get the report sent to the user so the laboratory can be paid. Anything that slows this production down will not be tolerated!” To maximize the Return on Investment (RoI) for the laboratory, management will employ staff that outwardly mirrors this philosophy.
  • I Need This Job CoI: This is the CoI area that poor quality lab technical staff and clerical staff most readily falls into. As outlined in the example above, both the analytical staff and clerical staff lacked the educational credentials, the technical training to be proficient in the use of the analytical instruments, ability to identify problems performing the analytical methods or complications in reporting analytical results. That means they were locked into the positions they held in this specific laboratory. This lack of marketable skills placed pressure on these staff members to comply with all directives from management. What happened to them in the end was regrettable, but predictable. Management can prey on this type of staff limitation.
  • Lack of Interest or Care CoI: This form of CoI is the malaise that infects poor quality laboratories, but can reach a level in management, quality and technical areas as to produce a culture where everyone goes through the moves, but does not care about anything but receiving their paycheck. In my many years of laboratory troubleshooting this type of CoI is the most difficult to correct. Laboratories where I had to correct this problem required that I had to impress on the staff that their work mattered and that they were valued employees. I had to institute a rigorous training program, require staff quality milestones and enforce the quality of work results. During my years of laboratory troubleshooting, I only had to terminate three laboratory staff for poor work performance. Unfortunately after I left many of these laboratories, management drifted back to the problems listed above and the laboratory malaise returned. This proves that even though a laboratory staff can achieve quality performance, it can quickly dissolve with lax management.

So, what are the conclusions of this article?

  • Laboratory culture can place profit over scientific correctness, accuracy and precision.
  • Laboratory management sets the quality of staff that determines the analytical results and report quality the user receives.
  • Laboratory quality can vary from acceptable performance to unacceptable performance over the lifetime of the laboratory depending on management.
  • This does not mean that all laboratories have staff or management issues. It is up to the client (processor, grower or dispensary) to determine the quality of the lab they use.

The next article in this series will introduce the user to the specific Quality Control (QC) analyses that an acceptable laboratory should perform for the user’s sample. These QC analyses are not always performed by accredited laboratories as the specific state that regulates their cannabis program does not require them. The use of these QC samples is another example of how laboratory’s with poor quality systems construct another paper work wall.

Amy-Ankrum-headshot
Soapbox

Quality Assurance for the Cannabis Industry

By Amy Ankrum
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Amy-Ankrum-headshot

Have you paused to consider that quality assurance is a moving target rather than a destination? It is culture within a company that requires constant improvement and change, rather than the work of a select few to reach one defined end goal. Quality, therefore, is not a box that must simply be checked but an overarching and driving force propelling organizations forward.

For those within the cannabis industry and specifically cannabis testing labs, quality assurance is critical to having a successful and thriving business within the rapidly evolving industry. Dr. Kim Ross, who earned her Ph.D. at the University of Colorado in Molecular Biology, and also has worked with multiple cannabis labs, says, “It is not that often that you get a new testing industry born these days and people are scrambling to borrow processes from other industries and apply these to the cannabis industry.” Those within cannabis testing labs are looking towards established industries like water and food testing labs to serve as a quality assurance beacon. Ross elaborates:

The cannabis industry is operating in the absence of federal oversight. If you think about it, the water, food, and pharmaceutical industries have federal oversight. In lieu of that, it is up to states to adopt regulatory practices and enforcement strategies to uphold a level of compliance and data defensibility that these types of regulators have seen in their careers working in the FDA, EPS, NELAC or ISO.

For cannabis testing labs, the stakes are high. First, there is the need to keep up with the rapidly evolving industry climate as more and more states and governing bodies are setting requirements and expectations for quality and compliance. It is in nobody’s best interest to fall behind or be a late adopter to the increasingly regulatory compliance environment.  

Additionally, untrustworthy data sets can have detrimental impacts on people and patients. Medical applications of cannabis require specific results in order to ensure the safety of patients, many of which are immunocompromised. Beyond damage to people and patients, businesses themselves can be hurt if a cannabis testing lab were to present inaccurate or flawed data sets. Ross shared hypothetical examples of potential negative impacts:

 If, for example, you fail a product for microbiology based on false-positive results then it incurs damages to the client because now their product can’t go to market. Additionally, falsely inflated THC results are also a huge problem in the industry, and can result in downstream problems with edible dosing or consumer satisfaction. 

A quality assurance system can minimize risk and maximize adherences to proper procedure, resulting in reliable data. Recalls, product issues and lawsuits cost organizations tremendous amounts of time and money, both to manage the problem at hand and prevent future incidents. Not to mention, the immeasurable damage done to the brand & industry by being viewed as untrustworthy–especially as a consumable product. “Ensuring data defensibility and data integrity protects the laboratory from lawsuits,” says Ross. “That is a really important piece of a quality assurance system for a laboratory.”

One common misconception is viewing quality assurance as a cost center rather than a profitability maximizer. A robust quality assurance system is a competitive advantage–especially for those who are not yet mandated to be compliant to a particular standard, like ISO/IEC 17025, but choose to pursue that accreditation knowing it reflects reliability. In many ways, quality assurance can be summarized as “say what you do, and do what you say”, with a willingness to allow third-party confirmation of your commitment and practice. “Accreditation gives an unbiased stamp of approval that helps ensure data defensibility in the laboratory,” affirms Ross.

Accreditation as a result of quality assurance ultimately leads to reliable and trustworthy data sets. Ross shared:

It might appear to be easy to buy expensive instrumentation, accept samples, and produce data. There are so many ways to do that, some of which are incorrect, and therefore accreditation is really an opportunity to have professionals evaluate methodology and post-analytical data processing to ensure that it is scientifically sound. It is an opportunity for a laboratory to be confident that their processes and reporting procedures are robust and error free.  

Remember: this is a new industry. There aren’t firmly established methods and procedures like other legacy industries. “We are operating in a time and space where there is no standard methodology and that makes oversight by a third party even more important,” shares Ross. When a company opts to pursue accreditation they are indicating a willingness to be honest and transparent with their business processes, procedures, outcomes and data. Accreditation, therefore, is necessary for this emerging industry. Having a robust, inclusive quality assurance system in place will ease and quicken their pursuit of accreditation.The stress on an audit day when there is a digitized system is vastly lower than a system that is printed and physically maintained.

Not all quality assurance systems are created equal. There are still some companies seeking to implement systems that lack the modernization necessary to truly propel them forward towards continuous improvement and scalability. Quality assurance software with widespread use and adaptation across organizations is both scalable and in support of continuous improvements. Binders, rows of filing cabinets and complicated excel spreadsheets are not a scalable backbone for a quality system. 

Beyond the accessibility and traceability that a digital system creates, it also protects. “We can protect that data with credentialed logins for key personnel and have information at our fingertips to reduce the regulatory stress on all personnel,” says Ross. The stress on an audit day when there is a digitized system is vastly lower than a system that is printed and physically maintained.

For those in the cannabis industry, specifically cannabis testing labs, there is an unequivocal advantage to implementing a system that supports continuous improvement, reliable data sets and the very best in business practices. Doing so will help sustain and grow the industry, and could be pivotal in transforming the production, market and research of cannabis.

Cannabis Track Added to 2018 Food Safety Consortium

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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The 6thAnnual Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo has announced a series of talks focused on cannabis. In addition to the categories such as Operations, Detection, Compliance and Supply Chain, the Call for Abstracts now includes a fifth category in this year’s program: Cannabis Quality.

The Cannabis Quality series will feature presentations by subject matter experts in the areas of regulations, edibles manufacturing, cannabis safety & quality as well as laboratory testing. The Food Safety Consortium itself is hosted by our sister publication, Food Safety Tech, but the Cannabis Quality series will be co-hosted by Cannabis Industry Journal as well.

Rick Biros, President/Publisher, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC
Rick Biros, conference director of the Food Safety Consortium

Citing the need to address safety in a burgeoning market, Rick Biros, conference director, believes education is key to helping the cannabis industry mature. “As the cannabis industry evolves, so does the need to protect the consumer,” says Biros. “Just as we protect the safety of our food supply chain, it is important to educate the cannabis industry about protecting their supply chain from seed to sale. Through these educational talks, we want to help bridge that gap, hosting a forum for those in the cannabis industry to interact with food safety professionals.”

The 2018 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo will be held November 14–16 in Schaumburg, Illinois. The event is a top food safety conference that features Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) industry experts and government officials.

The conference focuses on food safety education and networking, providing attendees information on best practices and new technology solutions to today’s food safety challenges. Previous keynote speakers have included food safety leaders such as Stephen Ostroff, M.D., deputy commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Frank Yiannis, vice president of Food Safety at Walmart and author of Food Safety Culture: Creating a Behavior-Based Food Safety Management System.

Before submitting an abstract, following are a few points to keep in mind:

  • The abstract should be about 300 words
  • Presentations will be judged on educational value
  • Don’t submit a sales pitch!
  • Presentation time is about 45 minutes—this includes a 10-15 Q&A session

To see the Call for Abstracts and submit a presentation for consideration, click here. The deadline for submissions is May 31, 2018. The conference will notify everyone who submits an abstract on the status of acceptance by June 15.

VinceSebald

Maintenance and Calibration: Your Customers Are Worth It!

By Vince Sebald
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VinceSebald

Ultimately, the goal of any good company is to take care of their customers by providing a quality product at a competitive price. You take the time to use good practices in sourcing raw materials, processing, testing and packaging to make sure you have a great final product. Yet in practice, sometimes the product can degrade over time, or you find yourself facing costly manufacturing stoppages and repairs due to downed equipment or instrumentation. This can harm your company’s reputation and result in real, negative effects on your bottom line.

One thing you can do to prevent this problem is to have a properly scaled calibration and maintenance program for your organization.

First, a short discussion of terms:

Balance Calibration
Figure 1– Periodic calibration of an electronic balance performed using traceable standard weights helps to ensure that the balance remains within acceptable operating ranges during use and helps identify problems.

Calibration, in the context of this article, refers to the comparison of the unit under test (your equipment) to a standard value that is known to be accurate. Equipment readings often drift over time due to various reasons and may also be affected by damage to the equipment. Periodic calibration allows the user to determine if the unit under test (UUT) is sufficiently accurate to continue using it. In some cases, the UUT may require adjustment or may not be adjustable and should no longer be used.

Maintenance, in the context of this article, refers to work performed to maximize the performance of equipment and support a long life span for the equipment. This may include lubrication, adjustments, replacement of worn parts, etc. This is intended to extend the usable life of the equipment and the consistency of the quality of the work performed by the equipment.

There are several elements to putting together such a program that can help you to direct your resources where they will have the greatest benefit. The following are some key ingredients for a solid program:

Keep it Simple: The key is to scale it to your operation. Focus on the most important items if resources are strained. A simple program that is followed and that you can defend is much better than a program where you can never catch up.

Written Program: Your calibration and maintenance programs should be written and they should be approved by quality assurance (QA). Any program should include the following: 

  • Equipment Assessment and Identification: Assess each piece of equipment or instrument to determine if it is important enough to be calibrated and/or requires maintenance. You will probably find much of your instrumentation is not used for a critical purpose and can be designated as non-calibrated. Each item should have an ID assigned to allow tracking of the maintenance and/or calibration status.
  • Scheduling System: There needs to be some way to schedule when equipment is due for calibration or maintenance. This way it is easy to stay on top of it. A good scheduling system will pay for itself over time and be easy to use and maintain. A web-based system is a good choice for small to mid-sized companies.
  • Calibration Tolerance Assignment: If you decide to calibrate an instrument, consider what kind of accuracy you actually need from the equipment/instrument. This is a separate discussion on its own, but common rule of thumb is that the instrument should be at least 4 times more accurate than your specification. For very important instruments, it may require spending the money to get a better device.
  • Calibration and Maintenance Interval Assignments: Consider what interval you are going to perform maintenance for each equipment item. Manufacturer recommendations are based on certain conditions. If you use the equipment more or less often than “normal” use, consider adjusting the interval between calibrations or maintenance. 
  • OOT Management: If you do get an Out of Tolerance (OOT) result during a calibration and you find that the instrument isn’t as accurate as you need. Congratulations! You just kept it from getting worse. Review the history and see if this may have had an effect since the last passing calibration, adjust or replace the instrument, take any other necessary corrective actions, and keep it up.

    Maintenance with Checklist
    Figure 2- Maintenance engineers help keep your systems running smoothly and within specification for a long, trouble-free life.
  • Training: Make sure personnel that use the equipment are trained on its use and not to use equipment that is not calibrated for critical measurements. Also, anyone performing calibration and/or maintenance should be qualified to do so. It is best to put a program in place as soon as you start acquiring significant equipment so that you can keep things running smoothly, avoid costly repairs and quality control problems. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming equipment will keep running just because it has run flawlessly for months or years. There are many bad results that can come of mismanaged calibration and/or maintenance including the following:
  • Unscheduled Downtime/Damage/Repairs: A critical piece of equipment goes down. Production stops, and you are forced to schedule repairs as soon as possible. You pay premium prices for parts and labor, because it is an urgent need. Some parts may have long lead times, or not be available. You may suffer reputational costs with customers waiting for delivery. Some calibration issues could potentially affect operator safety as well.
  • Out of Specification Product: Quality control may indicate that product is not maintaining its historically high quality. If you have no calibration and maintenance program in place, tracking down the problem is even more difficult because you don’t have confidence in the readings that may be indicating that there is a problem.
  • Root Cause Analysis: Suppose you find product that is out of specification and you are trying to determine the cause. If there is no calibration and maintenance program in place, it is far more difficult to pinpoint changes that may have affected your production system. This can cause a very significant impact on your ability to correct the problem and regain your historical quality standards of production.

A solid calibration and maintenance program can go a long way to keeping your production lines and quality testing “boring”, without any surprises or suspense, and can allow you to put more sophisticated quality control systems in place. Alternatively, an inappropriate system can bog you down with paperwork, delays, unpredictable performance, and a host of other problems. Take care of your equipment and relax, knowing your customers will be happy with the consistent quality that they have become accustomed to.