This article explains four key areas growers should focus on to mitigate the need for excessive remediation.
The seed-to-sale cycle of cannabis product development can be a cumbersome one. With so many environmental considerations throughout the cultivation process and the complex make-up of the cannabis plant itself, contaminated flower—crops that fail quality indicator or pathogen tests—is a standard part of the industry that every cultivator and processor must account for in their process.
When failure occurs, an organization may have the option to remediate the product. With a continued lack of federal oversight into the cannabis industry, there is discourse surrounding the topic of remediation—when to remediate and how to implement upstream strategies to minimize the need for it.
To be clear, contamination will happen despite your best efforts and a remediation option is a needed step in any quality control program because it can sometimes be the most straightforward path to maximizing the output of a crop. That being said, remediation can’t be an automatic blanket fix for poor cultivation practices, as some organizations are adopting a policy of remediating 100% of their crop in an effort to eliminate the risk of failed products. While the proactivity of this approach is understandable, running an entire crop through remediation can be time consuming and is mostly unnecessary, as it’s rare to have 100% of the crop require remediation. As the industry works towards identifying best practices for remediation, it makes the most sense to focus on the situations in which remediation can be used for maximizing results, as well as the risk mitigation steps growers can take to ensure more product meets compliance standards.
Remediation should be incorporated into any well developed quality control program. Depending on the situation, remediation may need to be used on a failing crop, but should not be instituted without a clear and concise plan for its implementation. In other situations, remediation becomes a much more preventative measure such as when working with cultivators who grow outdoors or in grow facilities with unregulated environments. Take the upper Midwest for example; there are many growers in Michigan and New York who grow close to the shores of the Great Lakes and are subject to the wind currents bringing in microbes from the surfaces of the lakes. Depending on season, air filtration systems may not be sufficiently designed to handle increases in microbial load. We see similar situations with Florida during hurricane season; facilities can lose power for days to weeks at a time and remediation can be the only way to salvage a crop that’s been overexposed to higher levels of humidity. Growers may also want to minimize the use of pesticides on the crop, and thus, remediation becomes a first line of defense in keeping crops viable.
To mitigate the need for excessive remediation, there are four key areas where growers should focus their efforts on a quality prevention plan:
1. Facility Design Flow
This is an area where you truly cannot get too granular, and the overall goal should be to minimize the path of human contact and microbes. The flow of your operation should be linear—starting with grow rooms, progressing to harvesting areas, then further to drying and curing rooms. For example, people shouldn’t be walking back through the harvesting room to get to curing. It’s also imperative to have established protocol for people entering any part of the facility, including details on uniforms and personal protective equipment (PPE) to fully optimize your procedures.
2. Environmental Monitoring
When it comes to microbial contaminants, you can’t fix what you don’t know, so an extremely thorough monitoring plan for your air, water, surfaces and equipment is essential. Paying attention to how often things like water filtration systems are cleaned and monitoring where and when airflow is allowed into the plants from open doors goes a long way in minimizingcontaminant exposure to your crop. Contaminants like Aspergillus are prevalent everywhere and without strict monitoring processes, you’re significantly increasing your risk of exposure.
3. Cleaning and Sanitization Processes
This one seems obvious, but again, is somewhere you can never be too granular. Good cleaning and sanitation standards will go far to help minimize risk of contamination. Procedures like using an alcohol wipe to sterilize cultivation tools between plants, enacting PPE fundamentals, and implementing best practices from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) procedures go a long way.
4. A Thorough Diagnostics Partner
The thread that runs through all of these preventive measures is multipoint testing. A multipoint testing plan used throughout the lifecycle of your crop is essential to maximizing output. When selecting a diagnostic partner, look for onethat manages your quality indicator testing through every step and can help identify gaps in your monitoring process and efforts. This ultimately helps minimize the amount of crop you’ll need to remediate. Without a trusted testing partner, you won’t know what you don’t know—and you’re far more likely to end up in situations where you’re remediating more of your crop than is actually necessary.
Remediation isn’t a new concept to the cannabis industry and its implementation isn’t going anywhere. Remediation and mitigation processes are an essential component of producingmost perishable commodities, ranging from meat and produce to cannabis.Implementing a well rounded quality program may seem like a lot of upfront work and investment but the end result is improved efficiencies with resources, maximized product output and ultimately a path to ensuring consumer safety. As the old adage goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Patrick Bird is a Sr. Manager Scientific Affairs at bioMerieux. Direct correspondence to: firstname.lastname@example.org.