Labelling Errors are the Leading Cause of Canadian Cannabis Recalls
Three years ago, Canada became one of the first countries in the world to legalize and regulate cannabis. We’ve covered various aspects of cannabis regulation since, but now with a few years of data readily available, it’s time to step back and assess: what can we learn from three years of cannabis recalls in the world’s largest legal market? Our analysis revealed a clear leader: most cannabis recalls since legalization in October 2018 have been due to labelling and packaging errors.
In fact, over three quarters of total cannabis recalls were issued for this reason, covering more than 140,000 units of recalled product. This data is critical for cannabis businesses, investors, and observers of the market because a cannabis recall can have costly consequences, regardless of the size of the business.
So, in the first of this two-part series, let’s take a look at a few examples from the past three years of labelling and packaging mistakes and their consequences, highlighting the importance of lab testing, cannabis traceability, and automation technology for recall prevention.
Secure Consumer Trust: Use Lab Testing and Integrated Traceability
Today, inaccurate cannabinoid information on labels is the most common source of labelling and packaging recalls in the cannabis industry (more than half). Peace Naturals Project’s recall of Spinach Blue Dream dried cannabis pre-rolls this year is a good example. Not only did the packaging incorrectly read that the product contained CBD, but the THC quantity listed was lower than the actual amount of THC in the product. The recall covered over 13,000 units sold over two months – a significant amount.
Accurate potency details are not just crucial for compliance. For many customers, potency is a deciding factor when selecting a cannabis product, and this is especially important for medicinal users (including children), people who are sensitive to certain cannabinoids, and consumers looking for non-psychoactive effects. In this case, at least six consumer complaints were submitted to Peace Naturals Project, the highest number for any cannabis recall in Canada.
For the company, mistakes like these erode consumer trust and damage brand reputation, and will also result in lost revenue and unplanned costs – including legal requirements to cover the costs borne by retailers as well as licenses suspensions or worse.
An essential solution to prevent a cannabis recall of this nature is integrating effective testing protocols such as frequent testing at multiple stages of each product lot. But how are those tests integrated with the rest of the facility’s operations? If tests merely sit in a spreadsheet in someone’s inbox, are they really providing the value that they should?
The food industry tackles these types of challenges with food ERP software, which is the perfect solution for cannabis processors too. A software system like Icicle goes beyond the mere organization of lab test results: it integrates all relevant data (hazard analysis, HACCP plans, employee training certifications, and more) to provide laboratory management as well as unparalleled traceability and powerful trending capabilities. No laborious manual transcribing of numbers is necessary, transforming tasks that used to take days into mere minutes.
With Icicle, standardized SOPs are followed, lab test samples are effectively collected, and results properly recorded, creating an automatic and compliant audit history. When lab test results exceed thresholds, corrective actions are automatically triggered to help prevent problems before products leave the facility. You can even generate trending reports and undertake root cause analysis for any issues that arise.
The effective and robust traceability system that Icicle provides also means that even if a recall is necessary, you can limit the scope of a recall with precision traceability. That Peace Naturals recall of 13,229 sold units was for one single lot sold over 10 weeks. A more efficient approach to production management mitigates all of these risks through integrated, cohesive processes.
Avoid Fatal Typos: Use Frequent Checks Backed by Unified Data
Some recalls were triggered by minor errors with a disproportionate impact. British Columbia-based We Grow BC Ltd. experienced this firsthand when it misplaced the decimal points in its cannabinoid content. The recalled products displayed the total THC and CBD values as 20.50 mg/g and 0.06 mg/g, respectively, when the products contained 205.0 mg/g and 0.6 mg/g.
Label typos are typically genuine errors — but ones that still put consumers at risk. Eliminating such misprints is essential for the entire industry to build consumer confidence. The good news is that many mistakes are avoidable. Setting up labelling standards with frequent quality checks and monitoring procedures and then codifying them into the SOPs is essential in this respect.
When all traceability and production data is working together in one unified data hub, labels can even be generated automatically, dramatically reducing the risk of human error. Integrating labelling with testing and production processes allows all functions to work with a cohesive set of accurate and up-to-date data.
Don’t Skip the Label: Check, and Then Check Again to Prevent Recall
We’ve covered incorrect label information and typos, but cannabis products have also been recalled from the Canadian market because of labels missing altogether or products sold in the wrong packaging. Peace Naturals Project experienced a recall for this reason, too, when its Cove CBD cannabis extract products reached the market without the back label. It carried essential information such as the cannabis equivalence, net weight, packaging date, and lot number. Undoubtedly, this is a critical omission that emphasizes the importance of proper packaging procedures and checks for compliance and safety-related communications.
Alberta-based Aurora Cannabis Enterprises faced a similar incident in 2021. The missing label on the product contact container triggered a recall despite the product’s correctly labelled exterior packaging. Ultimately, this type of error can have multiple repercussions. For example, without the required information, consumers may end up consuming products with higher THC levels and experiencing undesired effects. Traceability is impossible when batch numbers are not available. All this amounts to a risk for retailers, who are looking to purchase from producers with safety and quality control measures in place.
One way to ensure proper packaging is to implement effective quality checks and reporting mechanisms. Icicle integrates with a variety of scanner technology that helps streamline and automate these checks at multiple stages of production. Employees and lab staff can use scanners, tablets, and mobile phones to reduce the chance of human error and create a ready-made audit trail.
Avoiding a Cannabis Recall: Looking to the Food Industry for Guidance
Label-related cannabis recall incidents are diverse in cause, costly, and have long-term ramifications. They repeatedly emphasize the importance of lab testing and robust safety and control measures to standardize processes and maintain higher quality standards.
But many of these challenges are nothing new for the highly regulated and compliance-driven food industry. So, cannabis processors can turn to their food manufacturing counterparts to find the best viable, long-term solutions.
An underlying need for cannabis businesses is to increase reliance on data-driven safety programs to help prevent recalls and prepare for them effectively. This has long been a priority for food manufacturers, who count on ERP software like Icicle as an effective solution. It can help integrate all relevant processes into a unified platform and implement safety and compliance programs and even run internal audits.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of such ERP software is its seamless adaptability to cannabis industry needs. With Icicle, cannabis processors can avoid the hassles of building new systems and instead access powerful, paperless tools with a proven track record. As a result, they can achieve higher quality and safety standards, avoid critical label errors that lead to recalls, and, most importantly, keep their customers happy.