How is food safety particularly relevant to the cannabis industry?
From the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, food safety is about "handling, storing and preparing food to prevent infection and help to make sure that our food keeps enough nutrients for us to have a healthy diet." In other words, we know that we get our nutrients from food - but so do microorganisms that can get us sick. So we need to be conscientious about handling, storing, and preparing our food so that when we get around to eating, we don’t get sick. Food safety practices act equally as protection as prevention. On one extreme end, foodborne illnesses can cause long-term health problems or even the loss of a loved one. Thanks to everyone in the supply chain - the food handlers on the farms, in businesses, and in the kitchen - who practice proper food safety practices! We, as consumers, trust that we can all confidently enjoy the food we love with the people we love, with no exception for cannabis products.
Food safety also impacts global relationships as food contamination affects the economy and society as a whole. With major outbreaks, consumers can lose trust in their once favorite food brands. Loss of customer trust and business heavily impacts food chain suppliers and the industry as a whole. Food safety practices can protect the lives and the livelihood of people everywhere because foodborne illness is always preventable with proper food safety practices.
So, how is food safety particularly relevant to the cannabis industry?
Let’s look at the following three examples:
1. Consumers dose themselves because there are no current regulated prescriptions for medical marijuana. There is plenty of information on the different methods of administration but very difficult to find information on proper dosage, frequency of administration, or side effects. Moreover, consumers need to be able to rely on product labels in order to properly dose themselves.
A vendor approval program is standard in food safety practices. The vendor approval program establishes process and product integrity from the beginning of the supply chain. Also, a strong labeling program educates and assures consumers of your food safety practices. And, just in case, a well thought out recall program provides the time sensitive response needed in critical situations.
2. The people most vulnerable to foodborne illness are consuming marijuana products. This population includes people with immunocompromised systems, the elderly, the pregnant, or the young. These consumers in particular need and deserve to trust the food safety and quality of products every time.
The food safety practice highlighted here is developing standard operating procedures (SOPs). Establishing standard processes increases consistency and prevents food safety related issues. An environmental monitoring program can further enhance the integrity and development of the operation as a whole.
3. Consumers learn from each other. With prescription drugs, there are resources like medical doctors, research publications, and federal agencies. With cannabis, consumers obtain their information from online forums, budtenders, and peers. It is that much more important that the correct information is shared.
This point emphasizes the food safety practices of accurate labeling, branding, and consumer education. Having a robust marketing plan consistent with the food safety program of the company, further backed by a strong customer feedback program, also ensures that everyone - from the manufacturer to the consumer - is on the same page.