It won't come as a surprise to anyone who follows the cannabis industry that last week's inaugural National Cannabis Industry Association's Infused Product and Extraction Symposium focused heavily on safety issues -- both consumer safety and employee safety. The importance of proper procedures and protocols was emphasized in almost every session.
For example, local trainer Maureen McNamara presented her three-hour food handler course with a bit of a twist, customizing it with cannabis-specific information.
McNamara, who teaches ServSafe food-safety and alcohol courses through her training business, Cannabis Trainers, says she first became aware of the need for a marijuana-targeted program because cannabis-focused clients began attending her general-purpose food-safety courses.
"Food safety training is something I've been doing for eighteen years," she says, "so I started thinking about how I could apply the knowledge to this new industry. Because the ingredient is new, but baking and producing treats and candies is not new. And the participants in cannabis-focused businesses that are becoming my clients are really committed to doing things properly, safely, knowledgeably and compliantly, and it's been great to see."
McNamara's course is now required for recreational edible manufacturers in Colorado. "The basis of this class is the FDA food code," she explains, "which is a national standard. From there, each state and sometimes counties within states can make the food code stricter." So while facilitating the symposium class, which contained participants from all over the country (and even one from Canada), she asked the attendees how different areas of the food code might apply to their region or state.
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Of course, many of the participants in the class were coming from states that currently don't regulate medical edible manufacturers because the industry is so new. "The food code sets the baseline," says McNamara. "Non-regulated communities will be regulated in the future, and if they're not regulated by the government, then the customers and patients will begin asking regulation-style questions -- and those start with the foundation, which is the food code."
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Because plant-infused oils are one of several riskier foods that can carry foodborne illness, even manufacturers of relatively shelf-stable foods, like candies, must follow appropriate storage procedures. Labeling was another big area of discussion; product manufacturers need to keep track of strains and test results and possibly tweak recipes to accommodate potency variations. McNamara addressed the possibility of cross-contamination between and among strains when infusing oil or butter and suggested labeling utensils when producers are working with more than one strain.
She also suggested that product manufacturers adopt a "farm-to-table" ethos -- or "grow-to-happy-patient," as she noted. She encouraged business-owners to inspect grow operations and spend as much time as possible discussing production methodology and any materials used to grow the plant, from soil to fertilizer to pesticides.
"I would recommend that every participant and every client that I work with look at the strictest, most detailed regulations and rules out there," McNamara says. "Because those rules and regulations are designed to keep our community safe and healthy, we want to produce from that baseline. We already may be working with a high-risk population for medicated products designed to create ease or healing for people who require cannabis-medicated product. If we're already working with a high-risk population, creating very high standards to produce from will give a superior product, a trusted product, and it really can reduce a lot of liability moving forward."
McNamara has also partnered with NCIA to create a "SellSMaRT" program, which is based on her experience administering the ServSafe Alcohol program.