If you are finding that your cannabis is failing microbiology testing, you’re not alone. Most labs will tell you that microbiology failures are common in cannabis testing; so, even if you’re not experiencing this issue right now, there’s a good chance you might in the future.
Your best solution is to implement an Environmental Monitoring program. Environmental Monitoring of a cannabis facility is the control, recorded observations and adjustments of the physical space; or to put it more simply, it’s exactly its namesake – the monitoring of your cannabis’ environment including the air, water, surfaces, and equipment.
Environmental Monitoring, or EM, is standard procedure in many industries such as pharmaceutical, food, biotechnology, agriculture, so why isn’t it for the cannabis industry?
Simply put, the unregulated cannabis industry was never previously required to test product, and the current, regulated industry already has an abundance of required tests which are often considered a burden. Tests that are helpful but not required by Health Canada are often viewed as outside the allocated operational budget.
The best way to approach an EM program isn’t as extra, unnecessary testing, but as an insurance policy. With an EM program you are setting up your crop for success by monitoring and fixing early problems that would affect your outcome. When you monitor the environment before the plants are introduced, you will know if your product will be growing in a clean, sanitized environment. The continual watchful eye on the environment will ensure that your bacteria counts don’t fail at the finish line of testing.
So, what does this new insurance plan look like and what’s the cost?
Begin by testing your water sources; this can be done by any environmental lab. Ensure they are testing for bacteria counts, and if you are inexperienced with the science of testing, ask questions about your results. A lab focused on customer service will discuss your data with you; the good, bad and ugly all have implications.
Your next area of concern is air testing. The air that surrounds us is full of microorganisms and to capture what’s in the air you can perform active or passive air testing. The former requires an air sampler which can be costly and is a better investment for large facilities. The latter can easily be tested by allowing the particles in the air to settle on the plates. The smaller the space, the better. Environmental monitoring usually requires a map of your facility and the square footage of each room to calculate the number of plates required. Surface/contact plates or swabs are used against surfaces that may be at risk of contamination due to high traffic, or near HVAC inlets. These plates are sent to the lab for incubation which will promote microbial growth. Final reports are prepared and sent to the client.
Each time you receive a result, enter the data into a spreadsheet and create a trending graph. This will allow for evidence-based decision making for example do you have an HVAC problem, do you need to improve the sanitation procedures, replace the sanitation products, are your staff following hygiene procedures (all unkempt hair, including facial hair, is full of bacteria) and is the temperature of your room too high or humid?
While it does require an initial investment, the cost of environmental monitoring will decrease as hotspots and processes are fixed. The quality of your final product will improve, and you can look forward to increased revenue and lowered remediation costs.