Adapting to Change: Microbiology Testing
Have you heard about the new microbiology tests for cannabis in Oregon? Of course you have! Everyone has, and everyone is talking about it, because the early results have been a surprise to say the least, so it’s become a core focus for labs and farms alike.
The success and stability of the cannabis community depends on our collaboration through this new phase of testing. Let’s get into some of the implications for cannabis microbiology testing…
What “microbiological contaminants” are being tested for?
As outlined by the OHA, the microbiological contaminants compliance test will be looking for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Salmonella species, and varieties of the common pathogenic fungus (mold) Aspergillus. The last one is the reason so many products are failing the new test. Here’s the thing — Aspergillus is literally everywhere.
According to the CDC, aspergillus “is very common both indoors and outdoors, so most people breathe in fungal spores every day. It’s probably impossible to completely avoid breathing in some Aspergillus spores.”
That might sound a little hopeless, but many products are passing the new test, so there is definitely a way forward for the cannabis community. The CDC’s description also doesn’t differentiate between fungal particles and active fungal growth, the latter being more relevant for consumable products.
And while other tests like pesticides or heavy metals are based on concentration levels of a substance, the microbial test is simply for the presence of the contaminants. In other words, it’s a binary negative/positive, meaning a lack of more granular data to track progress or regression.
From our techs in the lab:
PCR analysis for microbial contamination is very different from any other analysis we run, such as pesticide analysis. For instance, if a sample fails for pesticide analysis for piperonyl butoxide at 2.10ppm and the failing limit is 2.00ppm, the client knows how close their product was to failing and can make a judgment call on their next steps accordingly.
PCR analysis does not provide this type of assessment. In terms of analysis, PCR only identifies the presence or absence of microbes, so we can’t inform clients if they are failing egregiously or not. We have no quantifiable results to provide, so the client cannot use this information to either reanalyze if the failure is close, or remediate if the failure is egregious.
Can you remediate cannabis contaminated with microbes?
The short answer is yes, you can still salvage cannabis that fails the microbial testing. The longer answer is that there is not much information on how exactly to do that. The OHA says “the batch may either be remediated using a sterilization process or be used to make a cannabinoid concentrate or extract if the processing method effectively sterilizes the batch.”
Of course, what we have the most control over is what precedes the test.
What can we do to prevent microbiological contamination at the farm?
The basics include sterile work surfaces and equipment, clean containers, and clean hands (and remember that means when you touch your face or your phone, your hands are no longer clean). Our team has a role to play as well when we’re at your facility. We’ll always scrub up as soon as we arrive, before interacting with anything in your production environment. We also have regular cleaning practices in place to make sure our sampling gear does not contribute to contamination, and the sampling process itself is designed to keep your product uncompromised.
What can we do to prevent microbiological contamination in the lab?
As you can imagine, the lab must remain a sterile environment. In addition to daily sanitization of our work surfaces and equipment, we also regularly swab and test everything to ensure there are no lingering contaminants that may come in contact with the product during the testing process. And every time we’re working with cannabis products, we start with clean hands and a new pair of gloves.
Microbiological contaminants are widespread and tenacious, so it’s understandable the new test is throwing some people off. We’re here to help through this period of learning and change — if you’d like to better understand your results and possible causes, please get in touch!