Guest Column: Food Safety Strategies for Cannabis Edibles Manufacturers

By Maureen McNamara

There are many aspects of running an edibles company that demand attention, from regulatory compliance and product consistency to packaging and financial issues.

With all this on their plate, however, owners of edibles businesses often overlook a crucial area: food safety.

It’s an increasingly important part of the industry.

Some states like Colorado have developed food safety rules for edibles companies, while others are moving in a similar direction. In the future, every market will likely implement some type of regulatory framework covering safety in edibles production.

Even if not required by state cannabis laws, food safety in general is a vital component of a professional industry seeking to gain credibility with the general public. You don’t want your product or your company to ever be associated with making people sick.

Additionally, your commitment to safety shows that you care and are committed to high standards. And it will help you avoid fines, shutdowns and recalls in highly regulated markets.

The best way to ensure your products are safe is to pay particularly close attention to five factors that often contribute to outbreaks, as identified by the Food and Drug Administration.

Here’s a look at how they apply to the cannabis industry:

#1. Purchasing

Although it’s tempting to go for the cheapest suppliers, it’s better to start with high-quality ingredients.

Ask your purveyors questions about their inspections and quality controls. If possible do a tour of the facilities from which you buy your products. Are you impressed with their food safety standards?

#2. Time & Temperature

Food prep areas are typically in the 70°-80° range, which can cause problems if you aren’t careful.

Bacteria need an ideal temperature (between 41 and 135 degrees) and a bit of time (four hours) to grow to harmful levels. Work in small batches to help keep food cold when necessary, and cool your heated foods quickly.

#3. Cooking

If you are infusing oil, I strongly encourage that you work with your local health department to develop procedures that will ensure the oil is cooked to a high enough temperature (while not messing with your chemistry) to eliminate the possibility of botulism.

Yep, that scary micro-organism that we typically think of with canned products could be associated with infused oil.

#4. Cleaning & Sanitizing

Pathogens grow well at room temperature. Cleaning and sanitizing is important to ensure they are reduced or eliminated.

Certainly all your food contact surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized whenever you change tasks, and at least every four hours.

This isn’t just for making the infused products; please keep this in mind at the store level as well.

Think of how many hands (both employees and customers) may be touching the product containers. Avoid cross-contamination by cleaning and sanitizing often.

#5. Personal Hygiene

In each food safety class I have facilitated in the last 18 years, everyone admits they or their team could improve their personal hygiene.

Shout out to any bearded folks – did you know that the FDA food code requires facial hair that is 1-inch or longer to be restrained? That means you’ll need a beard net.

Because most of the foods that are created in the cannabis industry are “ready to eat” foods, great personal hygiene and frequent, thorough hand-washing is essential. The FDA recommends a 20-second hand-washing procedure that involves hot water (at least 100 degrees), a soapy lather, vigorous rubbing  for at least 10-15 seconds, rinsing well and using a single use towel to dry your hands.

I know, this all sounds somewhat basic. But you’d be surprised at how many companies bypass these important steps.

When it comes right down to it, you make things that go right into your customer’s and patient’s bodies. Create those products from a foundation of food safety and you’ll more easily create a thriving business.

I encourage you to leave a comment about the strategies your team uses to make sure you are selling safe products.

Maureen McNamara founded Cannabis Trainers, which provides food safety training for edibles makers. She will speak at the upcoming Marijuana Business Conference & Expo in Las Vegas from Nov. 12-14.

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