It seems like edible cannabis is available everywhere these days. Dispensaries are popping up around the country, and people can easily purchase edible marijuana online, including on popular e-retail sites like Etsy and Amazon. It’s available in a variety of forms, including capsules, lollipops, gummy bears, cookies, chocolate bars and brownies. All you have to do is place an order and, in many states, the marijuana can be delivered right to your mailbox, quickly and conveniently.  

Edible marijuana products are being marketed for recreational use, as well as for medicinal purposes, such as treating chronic pain, relieving epilepsy symptoms, improving nausea from chemotherapy, etc. Cannabidiol (CBD) infused edibles seem to be more “socially acceptable” than smoking marijuana because they sidestep some of the stigmas of “smoking weed,” such as the odor. This makes them appealing to a wider audience.  

Since edibles are widely available — even on Amazon — and marketed to improve health conditions, we can assume these products are safe for consumption, right?  Actually, no – they’re not necessarily safe. In fact, there’s no federal regulatory safety standards for edible marijuana products. Most consumers who are purchasing edibles have no idea that this is the case.  It is, quite simply, a “buy at your own risk” market. 

As a food safety expert, this concerns me. People are buying and ingesting consumable products with no regulatory safety standards, which means they could get foodborne illnesses and become extremely ill or even die. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the safety of many foods sold in the United States, they don’t oversee or manage the safety of cannabis edibles.

Because there’s no oversight or regulations, some of the edibles being sold in the U.S. aren’t manufactured from food-grade ingredients. A document from the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment recently noted that some cannabis products being sold in the U.S. are coming from unregulated, unsafe and unsanitary manufacturing facilities. Further, some of these edibles contain unapproved ingredients, have been produced in unsafe conditions, and had unsubstantiated health claims on their labels.  

In many cases, the edibles being sold and consumed in the U.S. may: 

  • Not have the desired effect that consumers are seeking.
  • Be dangerous for consumption, due to inappropriate levels of CBD. 
  • Contain ingredients that are not food-grade and are, therefore, unsafe to ingest.
  • Be hazardous due to cross-contamination or cross-contact issues.
  • Transmit foodborne illnesses due to poor sanitation and hygiene in the facilities where they were produced.

Since these products (and the cannabis industry in general) are not regulated, many in the edibles business have not had even the most basic food safety training. Numerous production facilities overlook the most basic food safety rules: 

  • They don’t wash their hands – and may not even have hot water in their facilities.
  • They don’t prevent cross-contamination or cross-contact.
  • They don’t pay attention to critical items like time and temperature control or proper chemical storage.
  • They don’t have clean, sanitized facilities or equipment.
  • They have problems with insects, rodents and/or mold in their facilities.

Yet, they are still preparing consumable products and selling them to the public, who believe the edibles are safe.

Would you purchase and consume a product if you knew if had been manufactured in a dirty, rusty, moldy washing machine? Apparently, utilizing a filthy washing machine to produce marijuana edibles isn’t out of the norm. That’s exactly what happened in Advanced Medical Alternatives’ licensed facility in Denver. Their brand, At Home Baked, made a variety of edible cannabis products, including brownie mixes, blondie mixes, Rice Krispie treats, and Stixx candy, all in a rusted, eroding, moldy washing machine.

Fortunately, Denver is one of just a few jurisdictions that conducts inspections on cannabis facilities, and their inspectors caught the problem and issued a recall before any illnesses were reported.   Keep in mind that since there are no federal safety standards around cannabis facilities, it means there are plenty of jurisdictions that aren’t monitoring cannabis facilities or dispensaries for safety or cleanliness.  In many cases, people are unknowingly buying edibles that were manufactured in dirty, unsanitary conditions – and they could get very sick as a result.

Because there’s no federal regulation, lab testing varies among each state that permits the use of medical and recreational marijuana. Unfortunately, that means there aren’t consistent safety standards in the cannabis industry, as there are in the food service industry.  

The U.S. has implemented a national hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) plan around the food manufacturing and food service industries. As a result, food businesses will take great strides to only sell food that is safe for consumption, and will not cause injury or illness. As the cannabis industry continues to produce cannabis-infused edibles and other products, people in the business can learn from the existing food safety protocols and procedures.  Particularly, they should look to maintain compliance with food safety regulations and take all necessary steps to ensure a safe product for consumers (e.g., clean facilities, food-grade ingredients, no cross-contamination, proper labeling, etc.)  

Luckily, there are a growing number of CBD producers that are hiring food safety and cannabis experts to help them elevate their safety standards before the FDA starts to regulate. As with all industries, there are many companies that are ready, willing and trying to do the right thing.

As cannabis edibles continue to grow in popularity, it’s becoming increasingly important to buy from reputable companies that follow proper safety protocols. Cannabis companies should heed the same rules as other food businesses adhere to: clean and sanitary facilities, no cross-contamination, holding products at proper temperatures, using food-grade ingredients from reputable sources, etc. Just as you wouldn’t eat dinner at a filthy, pest-infested restaurant, don’t buy cannabis edibles from companies that don’t follow critical food safety procedures.

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