In Cannabis Industry Journal: Food Safety Standards for the Cannabis Industry

Icicle creator Steven Burton has written for cannabis industry journal on the shared concerns for food safety and traceability between the food and beverage industry and the cannabis industry. Cannabis shares many of the same common hazards as most food products, such as mould, and must track and trace product in much the same way. The underlying argument for each of these guest blogs is the same: the cannabis industry should look to food and beverage in order to anticipate which food safety standards could best apply to them.

Cannabis Industry JournalThough the concern at this precise moment is for the (changing) legality of cannabis, that will soon change as the industry grows and pressure from consumers, retailers, and regulators kicks in. Growers, distributors, and retailers will all need to implement hazard controls like the food industry and have robust traceability measures. Consumers are going to want to know that both safety and quality are of top concern from their suppliers. Any visionary cannabis company is going to want to get ahead of the market and regulations and get the highest safety and quality certifications available to them.

The question is: what safety standards work best for the cannabis industry? In the article for Cannabis Industry Journal, Burton breaks down the major food safety standards available today. First explaining the industry terms of GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative, a powerful global body aiming to harmonize food safety and quality standards) and HACCP (hazard assessment and critical control points system, the most common food safety program), Burton goes on to explain each of the major standards and how they might affect the cannabis industry.

Food Safety Standards for the Cannabis Industry

The most basic certification that is already required in most jurisdictions is GMP (or sometimes cGMP), meaning Good Manufacturing Practice certification. It is generally used for food and beverage products, but also pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, dietary supplements, and medical devices. It is considered the lowest level of certification in the industry and is not recognized by GFSI (thus limiting potential market access). As such, Burton notes that it is necessary but totally inadequate to ensure safety and quality since it does not provide a systematic approach to identifying and controlling hazards like a HACCP program would and doesn’t address quality at all. It’s crucial, argues Burton, to set your sights higher from the get-go and develop a corporate culture that will lead to GFSI-recognized programs without major organizational overhaul. Smart companies will have GMP certification as a matter of course, but prioritize higher levels of certification.

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The most highly recommended standard that is already being adopted by successful cannabis businesses is SQF (Safe Quality Food Program Certification), which aims to integrate rigorous food safety and quality. It is the most common certification in North America and recognized across the industry, including by GFSI. It’s also the first of the common food safety standards to develop a cannabis program. A cannabis company with an SQF certification has the greatest advantage because it offers the broadest worldwide reach and keeps companies a step ahead of competitors. It’s also achievable – just this past April, Curaleaf Florida ostensibly became the first cannabis company to achieve SQF certification.

There are other common food safety standards that don’t yet apply to the cannabis industry, though this may change soon. BRC, the British Retail Consortium Certification, has a lot in common with SQF today, though they originated in different segments of the industry. They don’t have a program for cannabis and don’t appear to be friendly toward the industry. There’s also ISO 22000, which is created by the International Organization for Standardization in Europe and is the primary system used across the pond. Companies operating only in the EU may look toward this certification in future (it doesn’t appear to be any cannabis company who has yet achieved it, though other ISO standards like ISO 9001:2015 and ISO/IEC 17025 have been obtained), but it is limiting and doesn’t follow the widely adopted HACCP methodology – and therefore is not recognized by GFSI.

While people think EU countries like the Netherlands have already legalized cannabis, the reality is different on the ground. The Netherlands only has a toleration policy for “coffee shops,” and many countries that allow medical use greatly restrict domestic production, licensed distribution, and imports. Things are changing, but it’s not yet clear how ISO regulatory requirements will play out.

Finally, Burton notes that FSSC 22000 (Food Safety System Certification) is another food safety certification growing in popularity because of its aim: to bridge the gap between ISO 22000 and GFSI-recognized programs by the addition of a component called PAS 220. It doesn’t appear as if any cannabis company has attained this certification to date.

Companies who strive for SQF certification (or other GFSI-recognized certifications as they become available) will find themselves far better prepared to seize market share as cannabis markets blossom.

– Steven Burton

The final verdict? Companies that achieve the highest and most flexible certification will enjoy a crucial competitive advantage when it comes to winning market share, popularity, and consumer trust. The food industry has a lot to offer here and growth-minded cannabis businesses will look toward the higher bar of SQF and comparable standards as they become available. With GFSI-recognized certifications under one’s belt, many doors will open as legalization rolls out around the world.

Check out the full article in Cannabis Industry Journal >>

We are providing complimentary HACCP plans to cannabis facilities that are committed to creating and implementing a quality food safety program. Learn more and request a free HACCP plan here.

Steven Burton is a technology expert who, in addition to being the CEO and President of Icicle Technologies Inc., developed and continues to build Icicle, a comprehensive food production management platform offering the food industry creative and dynamic solutions for better production, better business, and better public health. Follow him on LinkedIn to hear more about the future of tech, or check out his other articles in leading industry publications.


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