The Denver Department of Environmental Health ordered the recall of products made by a local hash-infused edibles manufacturer last week after "possible contamination from unsanitary equipment" and using equipment "not intended for food manufacturing," according to a statement by the DDEH's Public Health Inspections Division.
The equipment in question: a washing machine.
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At Home Baked was ordered to recall its brownie and blondie mixes, rice krispy treats and Stixxx Candy after the DDEH decided the washing machine used by the edibles manufacturer to make its water hash wasn't food-safe. AJ Ashkar, co-owner of At Home Baked, says using a washing machine is standard practice in water hash production, and he had no idea the Public Health Inspections regulated cannabis concentrates.
"We don't see the appropriate connection between the concentrate we're making and food," Ashkar says. "We kept the washing machine in a separate room from the kitchen."
At Home Baked shares a state marijuana license with Denver medical dispensary Advanced Medical Alternatives, which features At Home Baked products on its online menu. Westword cannabis critic William Breathes tried out At Home Baked's brownie mix for a 2012 edition of the Chronicle and gave it favorable reviews.
Ashkar says his company follows every procedure required by the Marijuana Enforcement Division and takes the necessary steps to ensure the quality of his concentrates.
"All of our hash is dried and cured" to help eliminate impurities, he says. "The next step we do, which is even more extensive-- we heat it for a period of time to kill any contaminants and bacteria, so it doesn't get to added our food."
DDEH inspectors view hash-infused edible manufacturers under the same scrutiny as restaurants, so although making hash in a washing machine might be fine under MED standards, city food inspectors say otherwise. Not only was using a home-washing machine a violation in DDEH's view, but the department says the device was covered in visible health risks.
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"Those photos are new. The washing machine was clean when they inspected it over a month ago and we were told to stop using it," Ashkar says. "Then they came back a month later and said it was moldy."
Danica Lee, food safety section manager of the DDEH, says the pictures were not taken a month after inspection, despite what Ashkar claims. Rather, she says, they were taken in June.
Despite these differing accounts, both sides have come to a compromise. Until a permanent production solution is in place, DDEH granted At Home Baked temporary use of a Bubble Magic Machine -- something Lee says is "much more comparable to commercial equipment" and "vastly better in terms of clean-ability."
Here's a video of a Bubble Magic Machine.
Ashkar says the Bubble Magic Machine can only produce about one-third the hash of a standard washing machine, but he and his associates are happy to continue production and will "take this on the chin and hope it doesn't knock us out."
On July 21, At Home Baked posted an update about the situation on its Facebook account. It reads:
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Thank you all so much for all of your kind words and support!!! At Home Baked LLC and Stixx will make it though this and will be getting replacement product out to rec and med shops next week and the week after!!! If you have ANY Stixx or At Home Baked on your shelf now please contat me with the # you have remainig so we can recall them and get you fresh product next week!!! Much Love!!!
Ashkar says At Home Baked offered a full refund to anyone who purchased the recalled items, and since then only four boxes have been returned.
"No one has ever reported getting sick of our products. I stand behind every single one of them," Ashkar says. "This is going to be an expensive process, but we don't do it for the money. We do it for the patients."
Ashkar says At Home Baked products should be back on dispensary shelves within two to three weeks.