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Spotlight on AOAC: New Leadership, New Initiatives In Cannabis & Food

By Aaron G. Biros
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AOAC INTERNATIONAL is an independent, third party, not-for-profit association and voluntary consensus standards developing organization. Founded in 1884, AOAC INTERNATIONAL was originally coined the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists. Later on, they changed their name to the Association of Official Analytical Chemists. Now that their members include microbiologists, food scientists as well as chemists, the organization officially changed its name to just AOAC INTERNATIONAL.

Much of AOAC’s work surrounds promoting food safety, food security and public health. Their work generally encompasses setting scientific standards for testing methodology, evaluating and adopting test methods and evaluating laboratory proficiency of test methods. The organization provides a forum for scientists to develop microbiological and chemical standards.

In December of 2018, they appointed Dr. Palmer Orlandi as deputy executive director and chief science officer. Dr. Orlandi has an extensive background at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), serving the regulatory agency for more than 20 years. Most recently, he was the CSO and research director in the Office of Food and Veterinary Medicine at the FDA. He earned the rank of Rear Admiral and Assistant Surgeon General in 2017.

Dr. Palmer Orlandi is the new Deputy Executive Director and Chief Science Officer at AOAC.

Where It All Began With Cannabis

As recently as three years ago, AOAC began getting involved in the cannabis laboratory testing community, with a working group dedicated to developing standard method performance requirements for AOAC Official MethodsSM for cannabis testing. We sat down with Dr. Palmer Orlandi and a number of AOAC’s leaders to get an update on their progress working with cannabis testing as well as food security and food fraud.

According to Scott Coates, senior director of the AOAC Research Institute, they were approached three years ago to set up a working group for cannabis testing. “We created standards that we call the standard method performance requirements (SMPR®), which are detailed descriptions of what analytical methods should be able to do,” says Coates. “Using SMPRs, we issued a series of calls for methods and looked for methods that meet our standards. So far, we’ve completed four SMPRs- cannabinoids in plant material, cannabinoids in plant extracts, cannabinoids in chocolate (edibles), and one for pesticides in cannabis plant material.” AOAC doesn’t develop methods themselves, but they perform a comprehensive review of the methods and if they deem them acceptable, then the methods can be adopted and published in the AOAC compendium of methods, the Official Methods of Analysis of AOAC INTERNATIONAL.

Deborah McKenzie, senior director of Standards and Official Methods at AOAC

Deborah McKenzie, senior director of Standards and Official MethodsSM at AOAC, says the initial working group set the stage for really sinking their teeth into cannabis testing. “It started with methods for testing cannabinoids in plant dried material and plant extract,” says McKenzie. “That’s where our previous work has started to mold into the current effort we are launching.” McKenzie says they are looking forward to getting more involved with methods regarding chemical contaminants in cannabis, cannabinoids in various foods and consumables, as well as microbial organisms in cannabis. “We are pretty focused on testing labs having reliable and validated analytical solutions as our broad goal right now.”

Moving Forward, Expanding Their Programs

Coates says the work they’ve done over the past few years was more of a singular project, developed strictly for creating standards and to review methods. Now they are currently developing their Cannabis Analytical Science Program (CASP), which is expected to be an ongoing program. “We are looking to fully support the cannabis analytical community as best we can, which will potentially include working on reference materials, proficiency testing, education, training and ISO 17025 accreditation, all particularly as it applies to lab testing in the cannabis industry,” says Coates. “So, this CASP work is a much bigger and broader effort to cover more and to provide more support for labs doing the analysis of cannabis and its constituents, as well as hemp.”

According to Dr. Orlandi, they want this program to have a broad reach in the cannabis testing community. “As Scott pointed out, it’s not just strictly developing standards and methods,” says Dr. Orlandi. “It is going to be as all-encompassing as possible and will lead to training programs, a proficiency testing program and other areas.” Arlene Fox, senior director of AOAC’s Laboratory Proficiency Testing Program, says they are actively engaging in proficiency testing. “We are in the process of evaluating what is out there, what is possible and what’s needed as far as expanding proficiency testing for cannabis labs,” says Fox.

Regulatory Challenges & Obstacles

The obvious roadblock to much of AOAC’s work is that cannabis is still considered a controlled substance. “That creates some challenges for the work that we do in certain areas,” says Dr. Orlandi. “That is why this isn’t just a one-year project. We will work with these challenges and our stakeholders to address them.” AOAC had to put some limits on participation- for example, they had to decide that they cannot look for contributions or collaborations with producers and distributors, so long as cannabis is still a Schedule I controlled substance in the US.

Arlene Fox, senior director of AOAC’s Laboratory Proficiency Testing Program

Muddying the waters even further, the recent signing of the Farm Bill puts a clear distinction between most types of cannabis and industrial hemp. David Schmidt, executive director of AOAC realizes they need to be realistic with their stakeholders and in the eye of federal law.

While scientifically speaking, it’s pretty much the same plant just with slightly different chemical constituents, AOAC INTERNATIONAL has to draw a line in the sand somewhere. “As Palmer suggests, because of the Farm Bill being implemented and hemp being defined now as a legal substance from a controlled substance standpoint, industrial hemp has been given this exclusion,” says Schmidt. “So, we are trying to be realistic now, working with our stakeholders that work with hemp, trying to understand the reality of the federal law. We want to make clear that we can meet stakeholder needs and we want to distinguish hemp from cannabis to remain confident in the legality of it.” Schmidt says this is one of a number of topics they plan on addressing in detail at their upcoming 9thannual 2019 Midyear Meeting, held March 11-14 in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Uniformity in Methodology: The Future of Cannabis Testing

Dr. Orlandi says his experience at the FDA has prepared him well for the work being done at AOAC. “The role that I served at the FDA prior to joining my colleagues here at AOAC was very similar: And that is to bring together stakeholders to accomplish or to solve a common problem.” Some of their stakeholders in the CASP program include BC Testing, Inc., the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), Bia Diagnostics, Bio-Rad, Industrial Laboratories, Materia Medica Labs, PerkinElmer, R-Biopharm AG, Supra R & D, TEQ Analytical Laboratories, Titan Analytical and Trilogy Analytical, among others.

David Schmidt, executive director of AOAC

“The underlying reason behind this effort is to create some level of harmonization for standards and methods,” says Dr. Orlandi. “They can be used in the near future to stay ahead of the curve for when regulatory agencies become involved. The idea is that these standards for analytical methods will already be established and as uniform as possible.”

When comparing cannabis to other industries in the US, Scott Coates mentions that most standards are signed off by the federal government. “When we started looking at pesticides in cannabis, it became really clear that we have a number of states doing things differently with different limits of quantification,” says Coates. “Each state, generally speaking, is setting their own standards. As Palmer was saying, one thing we are trying to do with this CASP program eventually will be to have some harmonization, instead of 30 different states having 30 different standards and methods.” So, on a much broader level, their goal for the CASP program is to develop a common set of standard methods, including hemp testing and even the Canadian market. “Hopefully this will be an international collaboration for standards for the methodology,” says Coates. They want to create a common set of standards, setting limits of quantification that will be accepted internationally, that will be accurate and repeatable and for the entire cannabis industry, not just state by state.

Food Authenticity & Fraud

One of the other activities that AOAC just launched recently is the food authenticity and fraud program. As the name implies, the goal is to start developing standards and methods and materials to look at economically adulterated foods, says Dr. Orlandi. That includes non-targeted analyses looking at matrices of food products that may be adulterated with an unknown target, as well as targeted analytes, identifying common adulterants in a variety of food products. “One example in the food industry is fraudulent olive oil,” says Dr. Orlandi. “Honey is another commodity that has experienced adulteration.” He says that in most cases these are economically motivated instances of fraud.

AOAC INTERNATIONAL is working in a large variety of other areas as well. All of these topics will be explored in much greater detail at their upcoming 9thannual 2019 Midyear Meeting, held March 11-14 in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Food Safety Hazards for the Cannabis Industry: ERP Can Help

By Daniel Erickson
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To say that there has been explosive growth in the cannabis edibles market is an understatement. In the next 5 years, edibles are expected to become a $5.3 billion industry according to the Brightfield Group, a cannabis market research firm. Skyrocketing demand for cannabis infusion in food and beverage products, both recreational and medical, has prompted concern for the health and safety of consumers due to the lack of federal legality and regulatory guidelines for these products. Edibles consumers assume the same level of safety and quality present in other food and beverage products in the market. Progressive cannabis operations are opting to follow current food safety guidelines to mitigate hazards despite not being legally required to do so. Utilizing these guidelines, as well as incorporating an industry-specific ERP solution to automate processes, enables cannabis businesses to provide quality, consistent products and establish standards to support the eventuality of federal cannabis legalization.

FDAlogoEdibles consumption has grown not only in a recreational capacity but also for medicinal use to treat chronic pain, relieve epilepsy symptoms, decrease nausea, combat anxiety and other health issues. Cannabidiol (CBD) infused products take many forms including candies, baked goods, chocolate, oils, sprays, beer, soda, tea and coffee. Their popularity is partly due to their more socially acceptable use, creating an appeal to a wider audience. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for overseeing food and beverage safety for products sold in the United States, their regulations are not enforced in the cannabis-infused marketplace. Without federal regulatory standards, there exist inherent food safety concerns that create risks to consumers. The average cannabis edibles customer is likely unaware of the “consume at your own risk” nature of the products.

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

There are many consequences of not addressing food safety hazards, as the possibility of food-borne illnesses resulting from unsafe and unsanitary manufacturing facilities have become increasingly likely in an unregulated market. In addition to these concerns, problems particular to cannabis growing and harvesting practices are also possible. Aflatoxins (mold carcinogens) on the cannabis bud, pesticide residue on plants, pest contamination, improper employee handling and training and inaccurate levels of CBD all contribute to the risk of outbreaks, hefty fines, recalls or business closure. To mitigate the risk of exposure, it is recommended that edible manufacturers employ a proactive approach of observing proper food safety standards that encompass the growing, manufacturing, packaging, handling, storing and selling of products. With a focus on safety, cannabis edible manufacturers utilizing an ERP solution and vendor with experience in food safety management will reap the benefits that food and beverage businesses have experienced for decades.

Following established food safety protocols and guidelines of the food and beverage and dietary supplement industry, allows manufacturers of cannabis-infused edibles to implement a proactive approach by focusing on safety and reducing the risk to their operations. Food and beverage manufacturing best practices include: maintaining supplier list, quality control testing, sanitary handling of consumables, maintaining clean facilities and mitigating cross-contamination. Successful food and beverage manufacturers also incorporate a food safety team, preventative controls, and a food safety plan (FSP) including a detailed recall plan into their safety initiatives.HACCP

Establishing and maintaining a supplier list with approved quality ingredients is an essential building block for reducing food safety hazards and can be easily maintained within an ERP. Documentation of vendor information and recording of stringent testing results ensures that specific quality standards are met. Conducting extensive research regarding the source of the ingredients for use in cannabis edibles allows companies to confirm that raw ingredients were processed in a safe environment. The importance of supply chain visibility cannot be understated, as suppliers are in control of potential hazards. Quality processes and regularly performed testing is automated through the workflow of an ERP solution in the manufacturing facility – enabling noncompliant raw materials to be quarantined and removed from production. The ERP solution allows for management of critical control points to catch non-compliance issues and set-up of alternate suppliers in case of supplier-related issues. Maintaining approved supplier lists is an industry best practice that provides current and accurate information in the event of possible consumer adverse reactions.

GMPFollowing current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) should underlie efforts to address food safety concerns in the cannabis edibles industry. An ERP solution assists with documenting these quality initiatives to ensure the safe and sanitary manufacturing, storage and packaging of food for human consumption. This includes evaluating equipment status, establishing cleaning and sanitation procedures and eliminating allergen cross-contamination. Employee training is conducted and documentation maintained in the ERP solution to ensure hygienic procedures, allergen awareness, illness reporting and required food or cannabis handling certifications.

Cannabis businesses can benefit from establishing a food safety team tasked with developing a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan to provide effective procedures and protect consumers from the hazards inherent in edible cannabis products – including biological, chemical and physical dangers. Automating processes within an ERP solution prevents and controls hazards before food safety is compromised. Since HACCP plans have historically been used by food and beverage manufacturers to ensure a safe product for the consumer, cannabis edibles manufacturers can apply the lessons from these food safety protocols and procedures in their initiatives.By utilizing food safety best practices partnered with an ERP solution, cannabis businesses can avoid the negative consequences resulting from failure to address food safety hazards in manufacturing, storage and packaging. 

A comprehensive FSP, as required by the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), identifies food safety hazards and guides the development of a company-specific, validated plan. This plan documents processes throughout the manufacturing, processing, packaging and storage stages of the operation. ERP software provides real-time, forward and backward lot traceability from seed-to-sale with the ability to track materials, document recipes and accurately label products. This detailed level of traceability provides an automated system that implements and documents food safety policies throughout the manufacturing process. With a trained Preventative Control Qualified Individual (PCQI) implementing the FSP, preventative controls, recall plans and employee training records are maintained in an integrated system.

The cannabis market’s tremendous growth has driven edibles manufacturers to follow the same guidelines as mainstream food and beverage companies to ensure safety is afforded equally to consumers of cannabis edibles. By utilizing food safety best practices partnered with an ERP solution, cannabis businesses can avoid the negative consequences resulting from failure to address food safety hazards in manufacturing, storage and packaging. At the end of the day, it’s up to cannabis manufacturers to be proactive in ensuring cannabis edibles are safe to consume until regulations are mandated.

Pesticide Testing: Methods, Strategies & Sampling

By Charles Deibel
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Editor’s Note: The following is based on research and studies performed in their Santa Cruz Lab, with contributions from Mikhail Gadomski, Lab Manager, Ryan Maus, Technical Services Analyst, Dr. Laurie Post, Director of Food Safety & Compliance, Andy Sechler, Lab Director, Toby Astill, Senior Business Development Leader at Perkin Elmer and Charles Deibel, President of Deibel Cannabis Labs.


Pesticides represent the leading cause of batch failures in the cannabis industry. They are also the hardest tests to run in the laboratory, even one equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. The best instruments on the market are HPLC and GC dual mass spectrometer detectors, called “HPLC-qqq”, “GC-qqq,” or just triple quads.

As non-lab people, we envision a laboratory that can take a cannabis sample, inject it into a triple quad and have the machine quickly and effortlessly print out a report of pesticide values. Unfortunately, this is far from reality. The process is much more hands on and complex.In the current chemistry lab, trained analysts have to first program the triple quads to look for the pesticides of concern; in cannabis pesticide testing, this is done by programming the first of two mass spectrometers to identify a single (precursor) mass that is characteristic of the pesticide in question. For BCC requirements in California, this has to be done for all 66 pesticides, one at a time.

Next, these precursor ions are degraded into secondary chemicals called the “product” ions, also called transition ions. The second of the two mass spectrometers is used to analyze these transition ions. This process is graphed and the resulting spectrum is analyzed by trained chemists in the lab, pesticide by pesticide, for all the samples processed that day. If the lab analyzes 10 samples, that translates to 660 spectra to analyze (66 pesticides x 10 samples). When looking at the spectra for each pesticide, the analysts must compare the ratios of the precursor ions to the product ions.

Confirmation Testing

If these spectra indicate a given pesticide may be present, the chemists must then compare the ratios between the precursor and the products. If these ratios are not what is expected, then the analyst must perform confirmation testing to prove the precursor mass either is or is not the pesticide of concern. If the ratios are not what is expected, it means the molecule is similar to the pesticide in question, but may not be that pesticide. This confirmatory testing is key to producing accurate results and not failing batches when dealing with closely related chemicals. This process of analyzing spectra is done in all labs that are performing pesticide testing. In this fledgling industry, there are few published cannabis pesticide methods. 

The need for this type of confirmation testing doesn’t happen all of the time, but when it does, it will take longer than our targeted three-day turn-around time. In the picture above, one precursor mass is ionized into several product masses; but only two are large enough to be used for comparison. In this hypothetical situation, two product masses are produced for every one precursor, the expected ion abundance ratio should be less than 30%. When performing any confirmatory testing, if the ion abundance ratio is >30%, it means the original precursor molecule was not the pesticide of concern. For example, if the ion abundance ratio was 50%, then the original molecule broke down into too many parts; it was not the pesticide we were looking for. This ion abundance ratio threshold was established by FANCO, the international organization that sets guidelines for all pesticide testing.

Testing Strategies

Methodology: In this fledgling industry, there are few published cannabis pesticide methods. The identification of the precursor mass and product ions are not always published, leaving labs to research which ions should be used. This adds to the potential for differences between lab results. Once selected, labs should validate their research, through a series of experiments to ensure the correct precursor and transition (product) ions are being used in the method.

Sample Preparation: Beyond the time-consuming work that is required to develop sound pesticide methods, the extraction step is absolutely critical for credible results. If the pesticides aren’t fully extracted from the cannabis product, then the results will be lower than expected. Sample preparations are often not standardized between labs, so unless a given extraction technique is validated for accuracy, there is the possibility for differences between labs.

Getting a Representative Sample

The current California recommended amount of sample is one gram of product per batch. Batch sizes can vary greatly and it is entirely likely that two different one gram samples can have two different results for pesticides. Has the entire plant been evenly coated with exactly the same amount of pesticide onto every square inch of its leaves? No, probably not. That is why it is imperative to take a “random” sample, by taking several smaller samples from different areas of the entire batch.

Sampling Plans: We can learn a lot from the manufacturing and sampling best practices developed by the food industry through the years. If a food manufacturer is concerned with the possibility of having a bacteria pathogen, like Salmonella, in their finished product, they test the samples coming off their production lines at a statistically relevant level. This practice (theory) is called the sampling plan and it can easily be adapted to the cannabis industry. The basic premise is that the more you test, the higher your likelihood of catching a contaminate. Envision a rectangular swimming pool, but instead of water, it’s filled with jello. In this gelatinous small pool, 100 pennies are suspended at varying levels. The pennies represent the contaminates.

Is the pool homogenized? Is jello evenly represented in the entire pool? Yes. 

Is your concentrate evenly distributed in the extraction vessel? Yes. The question is, where are the pennies in that extraction vessel? The heavy metals, the microbial impurities and the pesticides should be evenly distributed in the extraction vessel but they may not be evenly represented in each sample that is collected. Unfortunately, this is the bane of the manufacturing industry and it’s the unfortunate reality in the food industry. If you take one random cup of jello, will you find the penny? Probably not. But it you take numerous 1 cup samples from random areas within the batch, you increase your chances of finding the contaminate. This is the best approach for sampling any cannabis product.

The best way to approve a batch of cannabis product is to take several random samples and composite them. But you may need to run several samples from this composite to truly understand what is in the batch. In the swimming pool example, if you take one teaspoon scoop, will you find one of the pennies? The best way to find one of the pennies is to take numerous random samples, composite them and increase the number of tests you perform at the lab. This should be done on any new vendor/cultivator you work with, in order to help establish the safety of the product.

Deibel Cannabis Laboratories Launches Cannabis-Specific HACCP Program

By Dr. Laurie Post
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Manufacturers of cannabis products need a program tailored to the cannabis industry that helps assure the safety of cannabis products with respect to known hazards such as pesticides, residual solvents, microbial impurities, heavy metals and mycotoxins. Deibel Cannabis Laboratories has developed a course that that will teach those manufacturing cannabis products how to manage known product safety hazards using a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system.

HACCP has a long history of use in the food industry based on preventing potential hazards from occurring rather than reacting to issues when they arise. This program was started in the US but is globally recognized, used by food companies around the world to help produce safe products for consumers. Deibel Cannabis Laboratories applies the same prevention based system of HACCP to the creation of safe and wholesome cannabis goods whether they be edible, medicinal or topical. They also explore ways cultivators can use HACCP principles in their operation.12

Deibel Labs was founded by Dr. Robert Deibel in the 1970’s. Dr. Deibel is one of the original pioneers of HACCP, expanding the program from its original three HACCP principles to the seven principles we recognize today. Dr. Deibel developed the first “HACCP Short Course,” teaching this prevention-based program to food industry leaders in the 1970s.

According to Charles Deibel, president of Deibel Labs, this is an important step for the cannabis space. “Deibel Labs is proud to continue in our historic role as leaders in HACCP training by providing the cannabis industry with a training course developed by Deibel Labs associates who are International HACCP Alliance accredited lead instructors with years of experience in crafting and implementing HACCP plans for the food industry.”

They are launching a pilot two-day Cannabis HACCP Class to select clients at the end of January in Santa Cruz, CA. The full Cannabis HACCP course schedule for 2019 is currently in development. Accreditation by the HACCP Alliance is expected by early January, assuring that a standardized and internationally recognized training curriculum is provided by accredited instructors.

The course is forward-thinking, anticipating that sometime in the near future cannabis manufacturers will be required to control and document the safe production, handling and preparation of products according to state or even federal regulatory standards. Participants will be able to develop their own model HACCP program in an interactive group learning environment.

Attendees will:

  • Understand how Prerequisite Programs provide the foundation on which HACCP programs are built including GMPs, Sanitation and Pest Control Programs
  • Be able to identify where and how product safety problems can occur using a Hazard Analysis that considers Biological, Chemical and Physical Hazards
  • Gain the skills, knowledge, and tools necessary to develop effective Critical Controls, formulate corrective actions, conduct program verification and validation activities
  • Learn how to document activities and maintain records

Stay tuned for more information on when the 2019 course schedule is announced and how to register.

Logistics and Supply Chain Management in California

By Aaron G. Biros
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Just a couple weeks away, the California Cannabis Business Conference, taking place in Anaheim, CA October 22-23, will host a series of panel discussions where attendees can expect to learn from industry leaders on a variety of topics. As businesses in the state adjust to new regulations and the market matures, one particular topic seems to highlight a challenging new space: distribution.

Track 1 at the CA Cannabis Business Conference, Distribution, Retail and Delivery, will begin early afternoon on Monday at the show, where a panel discussion titled State of Cannabis Distribution: Scaling Cannabis Distribution and Expectations of a Distributor, will tackle a range of issues involving logistics and supply chain management in California’s cannabis industry.

Michael Wheeler, vice president of Policy Initiatives at Flow Kana, will host the panel, joined by Chris Coulombe, CEO of Pacific Expeditors, Jesse Parenti, programs director of Nine Point Strategies and Brian Roth, vice president of sales at KUDU Technologies. According to the agenda, the session will cover inventory management, shipping and transport, managing product data, order fulfillment, manifest creation and reporting on it all. Michael Wheeler says regulatory compliance is one issue they plan on discussing. “Currently the biggest pressure on compliance is the desire by some operators to live under the proposed regulations, instead of the current emergency regulations,” says Wheeler. “Add to this recently signed legislation and we have lots of opportunistic actions each with their own perception of compliance.”

Another important topic they plan on discussing is driver training and hiring practices. According to Chris Coulombe, drivers are one of the top two most important customer-facing teams in the organization. “Between the sales team and the fleet operation, drivers represent half of the face of your company,” says Coulombe. “Much like the sales team, they interface with your retail partners directly, and subsequently provide a sizable portion of the foundation that retailers will use to judge your company’s competency and efficiency.”

Chris Coulombe, CEO of Pacific Expeditors
Chris Coulombe, CEO of Pacific Expeditors

When hiring new drivers, Coulombe recommends the standard background and driver record checks, but urges looking for experience in sales and driving as well. “Find those that have leadership experience and are comfortable operating in quasi-structured environments,” says Coulombe. “To that end, we seek solution oriented candidates that are personable, experienced in troubleshooting on their feet, and understand how to operate inside the structure of an organization.”

Coulombe also emphasizes the importance of driver training in any distribution company. “We built our driver training from scratch based on collective experiences from the military,” says Coulombe. “However, creating this from scratch is not necessary at this point, some insurance companies, such as our broker, Vantreo, provide in house driver training and certification solutions as a risk mitigation measure for companies that they represent. We recommend speaking with your insurance company to find what packages they have available.” Proper training for your drivers can help increase efficiency in operations, decrease maintenance and insurance costs and provide for better employee engagement. Coulombe also says many insurance companies have standard operating procedures for drivers to help supplement your company’s protocols.

Chris Coulombe and the other panelists will dive much deeper into this issue and other supply chain topics at the upcoming California Cannabis Business Conference, taking place in Anaheim, CA October 22-23.

Ellice Ogle headshot

Concentrate On a Food Safety Culture In Your Workplace

By Ellice Ogle
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Ellice Ogle headshot

In A Culture of Food Safety: A Position Paper (2018)the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) defines food safety culture as the “shared values, beliefs, and norms that affect mind-set and behavior toward food safety in, across, and throughout an organization.” In other words, food safety culture in your workplace is the “this is how we do things around here.”

A food safety culture needs to be relentlessly communicated – everyone needs to know it is his or her job, not just a dusty slogan on the wall or a whisper down the halls.Building a strong food safety culture is particularly relevant to the cannabis workplace because of the unique history of the workers and the unique needs of the consumers. The cannabis industry is special in that it was an industry before it became regulated. As such, there are many workers in the industry who have a deep passion for cannabis products, but with experience rooted in working within only a few official standards. Thus, the behavior and mind-set of workers in the cannabis industry must adjust to new regulations. However, even currently, standards are ever changing and vary from state to state; this causes further confusion and inconsistency for you and your workers. On top of that, now that cannabis is legalized in certain pockets, 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 in particular need and deserve access to safe cannabis products every experience. Therefore, it is that much more important to develop a strong food safety culture in the workplace to promote safe, quality cannabis large-scale production for the larger, wider audience.

To achieve a food safety culture, GFSI emphasizes the vision and mission of the business, the role of the leaders in the organization, and the continuity of communication and training. GFSI also emphasizes that these components are interrelated and all are needed to strengthen a food safety culture. Food safety culture components can be simplified into: 1) things you believe, 2) things you say, and 3) things you do.“this is how we do things around here.”

Things You Believe

Food safety culture starts from the top, with the executive team and senior managers. It is this group that dictates the vision and mission of the business and decides to include food safety and quality as a part of this guiding star. Moreover, it is this group that commits to the support for food safety by investing the time, money and resources. The message then has to spread from the executive team and senior managers to an interdepartmental team within the workplace. That way, the values of food safety can be further shared to front-line workers during onboarding and/or continuous training. To restart a food safety culture, a town hall can be a useful tool to discuss priorities in the workplace. Overall, it is important to have every worker believe in producing safe food and that every worker is a part of and has ownership of contributing to the food safety culture at your workplace (GFSI, 2018).

Things You Say

A food safety culture needs to be relentlessly communicated – everyone needs to know it is his or her job, not just a dusty slogan on the wall or a whisper down the halls. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a saying that “if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.” Thus, the guidelines for a food safety culture need to be embedded in the policies, programs and procedures; and these guidelines need to be a part of training from day one and supplemented with periodic reminders. For effectiveness, make the communication engaging, relevant and simple – use your workers to pose for posters, use digital tools such as memes. In his presentation at the 2015 Food Safety Consortium, Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, says “How many of you created training videos that you show the desired behavior once? You should probably show the behavior more than once and by a few different employees so that when they see it, they see multiple people in the video doing it and that’s the social norm.” By sending a consistent message, a food safety culture can flourish in your workplace.A food safety culture does not happen once; a food safety culture is a long-term commitment with continuous improvement.

Things You Do

A food safety culture does not happen once; a food safety culture is a long-term commitment with continuous improvement. Periodic evaluation of food safety metrics and alignment with business goals contribute to maintaining a food safety culture – it is useful to learn from successes as well as mistakes. In the same presentation mentioned above, Yiannas discusses “Learning from the wrong way [mistakes] lessens the likelihood that we will become complacent” where he defines complacency as “a feeling of quiet security, often while unaware of some potential danger or defect that lurks ahead.” Without the constant commitment, businesses can falter in their food safety and cause costly mistakes – whether that be recalls or illnesses or worse. By not becoming complacent and emphasizing constant accountability, a food safety culture can thrive at your workplace and make your workplace thrive.

With the regulated cannabis industry still in its infancy, the time is now for every cannabis workplace to instill a food safety culture. Before being mandated, the cannabis industry can rally for food safety because it is the right thing to do. With participation from each workplace, the industry as a whole can be united in producing safe product and be better positioned to change stigmas.

Basic Training for Employers and Employees in the Cannabis Industry

Basic Training for Employers and Employees in the Cannabis Industry

By Lindsay Engle
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Basic Training for Employers and Employees in the Cannabis Industry

The cannabis industry is evolving as more states begin to legalize; as the legalization of cannabis grows, the industry will need more well-informed dispensaries and dispensary employees.

Unfortunately, there are employees in dispensaries without proper training and some are put in positions to recommend specific strains to patients that may not be accurate. Getting proper training is important, no matter which cannabis job you want to pursue.

More Training Is Needed

Currently, there are no national standards for training dispensary employees, there is not even a licensing code. Therefore, it is important for owners to investigate state laws and understand legal minimums for worker education.

There are states, like Massachusetts, which requires a $500 fee for employee registration. There are other states that require cannabis employees receive a certain number of education hours on specific topics, like patient confidentiality.

Overall, more than fifty percent of cannabis dispensary staff has reported receiving some type of formal training and only twenty percent of staff members have received medical cannabis training.Basic Training for Employers and Employees in the Cannabis Industry

Dispensary staff should receive training on how and when to make appropriate suggestions to patients. Any successful dispensary owner will acknowledge that employee education pays off in reduced loss, increased sales and avoided fines. There are more benefits to employee training than just these and there are steps owners can take to ensure they are getting the most out of their business and employees.

Setting up a System

When a dispensary has protocols in place that show how the business operates, the company will have consistency and organization. No matter the task, all team members must follow specific procedural protocols.

Mostly, mistakes are made when steps are missed or misunderstood by new employees, but with proper and thorough training, this can be avoided. Owners should be investing in a POS software system that is straightforward; this will reduce training time and make it easier for new staff to be familiar with the system.Having budtenders that can educate and connect with the customers on a personal level is invaluable

Teaching budtenders to adopt a soft sell technique will be the most effective when it comes to increasing sales. Many customers seeking relief using cannabis are not going to respond to a hard sell technique, as this comes off pushy or aggressive.

There are going to be customers who are unsure of what products they want; theses customers will need guidance, and training employees to make suggestions based on what the customer is looking for is the best sales practice.

Having budtenders that can educate and connect with the customers on a personal level is invaluable; dispensaries that do this will have repeat customers.

More States Legalizing, More Dispensaries and More Employees

As the United States heads towards cannabis legalization, slowly but surely, we need to be prepared to train workers. When you have a dispensary that you have already spent millions of dollars on the application process, you don’t have time to be messing around with employees that are not serious.

There are many different options anyone in the cannabis industry can seek out to educate themselves more in the business.Those distributing cannabis must take their duties as seriously as pharmaceutical technicians, because in a sense that is what they are doing. They are giving information on the prescription or drug to a customer that is using it for an intended a purpose.

Cannabis users come in many different ages and aliments. It is important for budtenders and dispensary owners to understand the backgrounds of each customer to increase their up-sale potential.

While compassion isn’t something you can learn online or in a classroom, it is always a good idea to remind others to be compassionate. The budtender that asks the right questions, takes time with each patient to care for them and goes over practical products for the client will be the budtender with the most sales revenue.

Higher Learning

There are many different options anyone in the cannabis industry can seek out to educate themselves more in the business.

Some platforms are available online and are filled with important content that can teach you about different aspects of the cannabis plant and industry. These classes can prepare employees or owners for success.The most important training will be the training of patients

There are courses that can educate you in how to cook and healing with cannabis. You can also learn about laws on a state-by-state basis when you are enrolled in a cannabis-training program. The cannabis industry is large and growing; entrepreneurs, lawyers and caregivers can learn about the growing movement and expand their knowledge on this topic.

Patient Training

The most important training will be the training of patients, who will be navigating between the world of western medication and the new option of medicinal cannabis.

There are obviously many positive things that will come from the legalization of cannabis, one of the biggest being more options for pain management patients. There is a misconception that people are using medicinal cannabis as an excuse to get high; however, many patients in most states are over the age of 50.

In 2016, it was estimated that 650,000 Americans were using cannabis in compliance with the laws of their state. As legalization grows to a national level, we are going to need to be educating patients.

It is important for citizens to talk to their doctors about methods they believe will work best for them. It is necessary to communicate strains that are ineffective or unsatisfying. Keeping a cannabis journal is a good way to know what dose and strain you benefit from the most.

There are many ways patients can be educated in the cannabis industry, and dispensaries that encourage patient education will grow customer loyalty. The person who knows the facts and is confident in their information will be more successful than the person who guesses.

Be sure you, your staff and your customers know the laws, strains and can accurately answer questions about cannabis.

Documentation: Are You Prepared?

By Radojka Barycki
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Documents play a key role in the world of regulations and global standards. Documents tell a story on programs development, implementation and verification during an inspection or audit. Documents are used as evidence to determine conformance to the law or standard. However, do you know what kind of documents may be reviewed during a regulatory inspection or a food safety audit? Are you prepared to show that the implementation of regulatory requirements or a standard is done efficiently at your facility?

Inspectors and auditors will look for compliance either to regulations or to a standard criterion. Regulations and standards require that documentation is controlled, secured and stored in an area where they cannot deteriorate. Therefore, writing a Document Management Program (DMP) will help a business owner ensure consistency in meeting this and other requirements.Radojka Barycki will host a a plenary session titled, “Cannabis: A Compliance Revolution” at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | Learn More

A well-developed and implemented DMP provides control over documents by providing a number sequence and revision status to the document. In addition, ownership for development, review and distribution of the documents are assigned to specific individuals within the company to ensure that there are no inconsistencies in the program. Documents must also have the name of the company in addition to a space to write the date when the record is generated. It is recommended to include the address if there are multiple operational sites within the same company.

There are different types of documents that serve as support to the operations:

  1. Program: A written document indicating how a business will execute its activities. When it comes to the food industry, this is a written document that indicates how quality, food safety and business activities are controlled.
  2. Procedures: General actions conducted in a certain order. Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs) allow the employee to know what to do in general. For example, a truck receiving procedure only tells the employee what the expected conditions are when receiving a truck (cleanliness, temperature, etc.) However, it doesn’t tell the employee how to look for the expected conditions at the time of the truck arrival.
  3. Work Instructions: Detailed actions conducted in a certain order. For example, truck inspection work instruction tells the employee what steps are to be followed to perform the inspection.
  4. Forms: Documents used to record activities being performed. 
  5. Work Aids: are documents that provide additional information that is important to perform the job and can be used as a quick reference when performing the required activities within the job. 
Are you prepared to face document requirements now and in the future?

The inspectors and auditors base their role on the following saying: “Say what you do. Do what you say. Prove it!” The programs say what the company do. The procedures, work instructions and work aids provide information on implementation (Do what you say) and the forms become records that are evidence (prove) that the company is following their own written processes.

Regulatory requirements for cannabis vary from state to state. In general, an inspector may ask a cannabis business to provide the following documentation during an inspection:

  1. Business License(s)
  2. Product Traceability Programs and Documents
  3. Product Testing (Certificate of Analysis – COAs)
  4. Certification Documents (applicable mainly to cannabis testing labs)
  5. Proof of Destruction (if product needs to be destroyed due to non-compliance)
  6. Training Documents (competency evidence)
  7. Security Programs

As different states legalize cannabis, new regulatory requirements are being developed and modeled after the pharma, agriculture and food industries. In addition, standards will be in place that will provide more consistency to industry practices at a global level. The pharma, agriculture and food industries base their operations and product safety in programs such as cGMPs, GAPs, HACCP-based Food Safety Management Systems and Quality Management Systems. Documents required during an inspection or audit are related to:

  1. Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)
  2. Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs)
  3. Food Safety Plan Documents
  4. Ingredient and Processing Aids Receiving
  5. Ingredient and Processing Aids Storage
  6. Operational Programs (Product Processing)
  7. Final Product Storage
  8. Final Product Transportation
  9. Defense Program
  10. Traceability Program
  11. Training Program
  12. Document Management Program

In the always evolving cannabis industry, are you prepared to face document requirements now and in the future?

Soapbox

5 Things You Can Do To Get the Most Value From Your Consultant

By Vince Sebald
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I worked for about 18 years as a company employee in various levels from entry-level engineer to senior director. Since then I have spent over a decade as a consultant in the life science industry as the founder of Sebald Consulting. Presently, I also use consultants as CEO of GxPready!, a web based CMMS software company. Based on this experience, I have put together a top 5 list of things you can do to get the most value when using consultants:

1. Recognize when a project requires a consultant

There can be several reasons a project may benefit from having a consultant which may include bringing a new skill set, industry experience or an outside perspective to bear on a project that is not available otherwise.

Provide clear guidance as to what the task and deliverables are on an ongoing basis.Also, there are occasions when resources are already stretched and you need short-term support to get through an intensive segment of a project, but the work may not be enough to justify additional longer-term resources.

In any of these cases, filling the gap internally can be difficult and time consuming. A consultant can be a great solution. Even if you don’t plan to use a consultant for the project, it may be to your benefit to have a consultant perform a “gap assessment” to help you to identify areas which require improvement to meet compliance requirements or best practice guidelines. This is often done to prepare for audits, for example.

2. Vet the consultant to get a good match

Contact potential consultants to determine if they have the set of skills you are looking for and if they fit within the culture of your organization. Talk to the actual consultant you will be working with before bringing them on.  Review the consulting contract carefully to make sure the terms are mutually acceptable.  Often consultants have some flexibility to accommodate different project situations.

One advantage to using consultants is that you don’t have a long commitment so even after you vet them with interviews, you can work on small projects and gauge the results. Some consulting companies are very formal and others are less so, for example. A good fit is better for both parties. It’s not just the competence, but the culture and personal fit with your team.

3. Provide the consultant with appropriate guidance and resources

Help the consultant give you the best results possible by providing access to the resources (personnel, information, documents, systems, etc.) to allow the consultant to perform the tasks.

Consultants can help you get through unfamiliar territory or help you to manage your team’s workload. Know how to use these resources to benefit your projects. This project manager called just in time.

Provide clear guidance as to what the task and deliverables are on an ongoing basis.

Alternatively, allow the consultant to manage the project and reach out as necessary. Any guidance and resources you can provide the consultant will increase the effectiveness and help control your costs on the project.

If you don’t know exactly what needs to be done (“That’s why I hired a consultant!”) then have the consultant put together a list for you based on some general guidance and then work from that list to get your job completed.

4. Track progress with appropriate level of detail

If you have vetted and hired a consultant, chances are they are going to put in their best effort to meet your requirements. Nonetheless, it is good practice to have a system in place to track hours/costs.

Whether it is weekly reporting, or based on milestones and project updates, this helps to avoid any misunderstandings and provides opportunities for communication of project issues in addition to whatever project updates may be scheduled.

You want your team of consultants and employees to be able to work as well as possible together.Recognize that you can go overboard in this area, working against yourself and the project, if the tracking is so detailed that it takes excessive resources to document. It is definitely possible to inadvertently generate more hours (and expense) by managing time in too much detail. If the concern is high and heavy management is required, perhaps that indicates the consultant is not the best match for this project.

Generally, you can find a good balance with a simple up-front chat with the consultant to review your expectations, and for larger projects it is often formalized in the contract.

5. Recognize if it’s not a good fit

There are many consultants and clients out there. Inevitably, there are times when, despite best intentions, the consultant/client mix isn’t working out. Make sure the contract allows for management of this situation. Can you cancel the contract with reasonable notice? Is there a mechanism for being able to replace members of the team that aren’t working out?

You want your team of consultants and employees to be able to work as well as possible together. If that’s not happening, recognize it and make adjustments as necessary. But don’t lose the contact information. A consultant that doesn’t work out today may be just right for your next project!

Following the above can improve your chances of success with consultants you may hire and allow you to build a solid set of resources you can call on from time to time as things change in your company. Consultants can fill a vital role for tasks requiring specialized skills or short-term projects where a full time hire is not practical.

HACCP

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) for the Cannabis Industry: Part 4

By Kathy Knutson, Ph.D.
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HACCP

In Part 3 of this series on HACCP, Critical Control Points (CCPs), validation of CCPs and monitoring of CCPs were defined. When a HACCP plan identifies the correct CCP, validates the CCP as controlling the hazard and monitors the CCP, a potential hazard is controlled in the manufacturing and packaging of cannabis-infused edibles. The food industry is big on documentation. If it’s not documented, it did not happen. The written hazard analysis, validation study and monitoring of CCPs create necessary records. It is these records that will prove to a customer, auditor or inspector that the edible is safe. Here in Part 4, more recordkeeping is added on for deviation from a CCP, verification and a recall plan. 

Take Corrective Action When There Is a Deviation from a Critical Control Point

Your food safety team conducts a hazard analysis, identifies CCPs and decides on monitoring devices, frequency and who is responsible for monitoring. You create an electronic or paper record of the monitoring for every batch of edible to document critical limits were met. Despite all your good efforts, something goes wrong. Maybe you lose power. Maybe the equipment jams. Nothing is perfect when dealing with ingredients, equipment and personnel. Poop happens. Because you are prepared before the deviation, your employees know what to do. With proper training, the line worker knows what to do with the equipment, the in-process product and who to inform. In most cases the product is put on hold for evaluation, and the equipment is fixed to keep running. The choices for the product include release, rework or destroy. Every action taken needs to be recorded on a corrective action form and documents attached to demonstrate the fate of the product on hold. All the product from the batch must be accounted for through documentation. If the batch size is 100 lb, then the fate of 100 lb must be documented.

Verify Critical Control Points Are Monitored and Effective

First, verification and validation are frequently confused by the best of food safety managers. Validation was discussed as part of determining CCPs in Part 3. Validation proves that following a CCP is the right method for safety. I call validation, “one and done.” Validation is done once for a CCP; while verification is ongoing at a CCP. For example, the time and temperature for effective milk pasteurization is very well known and dairies refer to the FDA Pasteurized Milk Ordinance. Dairies do not have to prove over and over that a combination of time and temperature is effective (validation), because that has been proven.

I encourage you to do as much as you can to prepare for a recall.A CCP is monitored to prove the safety parameters are met. Pasteurization is an example of the most commonly monitored parameters of time and temperature. At a kill step like pasteurization, the employee at that station is responsible for accurate monitoring of time and temperature. The company managers and owners should feel confident that CCPs have been identified and data are being recorded to prove safety. Verification is not done by the employee at the station but by a supervisor or manager. The employee at the station is probably not a member of the food safety team that wrote the HACCP plan, but the supervisor or manager that performs verification may be. Verification is proving that what was decided by the food safety team is actually implemented and consistently done.

Verification is abundant and can be very simple. First, every record associated with a CCP is reviewed by a supervisor or manager, i.e. someone who did not create the record. This can be a simple initial and date at the bottom of the record. Every corrective action form with its associated evaluation is verified in the same way. When HACCP plans are reviewed, that is verification. Verification activities include 1) testing the concentration of a sanitizer, 2) reviewing Certificates of Analysis from suppliers, 3) a review of the packaging label and 4) all chemical and microbiological testing of ingredients and product. The HACCP plan identifies CCPs. Verification confirms that implementation is running according to the plan.

Verification is like a parent who tells their child to clean their room. The child walks to their room and later emerges to state that the room is clean. The parent can believe the word of the child, if the child has been properly trained and has a history of successfully cleaning their room. At some frequency determined by the parent, the room will get a parental visual check. This is verification. In the food industry, CCP monitoring records and corrective action must be reviewed within seven days after the record is created and preferably before the food leaves the facility. Other verification activities are done in a timely manner as determined by the company.

Food processing and sanitation
Product recalls due to manufacturing errors in sanitation cause mistrust among consumers.

Write a Recall Plan

In the food industry, auditors and FDA inspectors require a written recall plan. Mock recalls are recommended and always provide learning and improvement to systems. Imagine your edible product contains sugar, and your sugar supplier notifies you that the sugar is recalled due to glass pieces. Since you are starting with the supplier, that is one step back. Your documentation of ingredients includes lot numbers, dates and quantity of sugar.You keep good records and they show you exactly how much of the recalled lot was received. Next you gather your batch records. Batches with the recalled sugar are identified, and the total amount of recalled sugar is reconciled. You label every batch of your edible with a lot code, and you identify the amount of each affected lot and the customer. You have a press release template in which you add the specific information about the recall and affected lots. You notify every customer where the affected edible was shipped with a plan to return or destroy the edible. When you notify your customers, you go one step forward.

How would your company do in this situation? I have witnessed the difficulties a company faces in a recall when I was brought in to investigate the source of a pathogen. Food safety people in my workshops who have worked through a recall tell me that it was the worst time of their life. I encourage you to do as much as you can to prepare for a recall. Here are two good resources:

Please comment on this blog post below. I love feedback!