Food safety violations have been reported at edible marijuana manufacturers and vendors in Denver this year, with the city’s department of environmental health inspections finding more than 200 critical violations at over 100 facilities. In response, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) has launched food safety and handling courses specifically designed for people working in this new market.
The first ServSafe Food Handler and Sell-Smart Responsible Cannabis Vendor classes were held in August, developed and facilitated by Maureen McNamara, founder of Cannabis Trainers, a NCIA member business. McNamara has been teaching the ServSafe course to traditional food industry professionals for the past 18 years.
Concerns about food safety focus on the potential for bacteria growth in plant-infused oils and botulism due to improper refrigeration in certain products or extraction methods. Critical violations have included improper storage and labeling of toxic items, no use of food thermometers, inadequate handwashing, signs of spoilage, and not holding cold food at 41 degrees or lower. The Denver Post reported that one business was using a corroded and moldy clothes washing machine to process marijuana.
The state has issued several rules this year aimed at consumer safety, both in manufacturing and in retail. These include required information on packaging and new rules that deal with safe serving sizes. New guidelines from the Marijuana Enforcement Division are expected to go into effect on November 1 that limit the potency of the product, set serving size, and require safe packaging of edible products. Single-serving edibles will need child-resistant packaging before shipment to retail stores. Products with the maximum amount of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, must also be easily broken into single-serving pieces.
According to Taylor West, deputy director of the NCIA, ServSafe Food Handler classes cover major food safety issues, such as appropriate hygiene (handwashing, clothing, hair restraint, etc.), temperature control for ingredients susceptible to spoilage, and careful inspection of incoming product that will be used for infusions. “It is important to everyone in the industry that we are using the highest standards when making infused food products,” West says. “The long-term sustainability of the legal cannabis industry depends on sellers and consumers alike committing to safe and responsible practices.”
The Sell-Smart Responsible Cannabis Vendor course teaches marijuana dispensary employees responsible selling practices, such as checking customer identification, educating customers about responsible consumption, and handling tricky situations. “It is in no one’s interest for cannabis patients or consumers to have a bad experience,” West says.