How GFSI Applies to Cannabis Production
A dispensary in Florida has been touted as the first cannabis producer to become GFSI certified. What is GFSI? And why might you want to consider checking it out?
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is an “industry-driven global collaboration to advance food safety.” Certification to its benchmarking requirements, attained through programs such as SQF, BRC, and CanadaGAP, among others, has become widely accepted around the world as a food safety standard. And cannabis producers are using it for more than just edibles.
While regulations and standards for THC, CBD, and hemp products still vary widely from state to state, state to federal, and country to country, food safety is critical whether one is producing medical or recreational products. However, with the relative youth of the legal cannabis industry, there tends to be limited expertise in food safety, and the establishment of basic food safety controls is just beginning for many producers. But this will change as the industry matures, and GFSI is already beginning to make inroads into the industry.
In fact, Florida statute’s on medical marijuana (381.986) specifically mentions GFSI, stating, “Within 12 months after licensure, a medical marijuana treatment center must demonstrate to the department that all of its processing facilities have passed a Food Safety Good Manufacturing Practices, such as Global Food Safety Initiative or equivalent, inspection by a nationally accredited certifying body.” And the provision is being enforced. While at least one dispensary earned its GFSI/SQF certification, others were forced to stop processing cannabis in 2018 because they were not able to show the Department of Health that they had passed a food safety inspection.
Such regulatory provisions show the regard to which GFSI is held – regardless of the state in which you are based. Not only does it ensure that you are meeting food safety standards, it can raise the profile of your company; increase your level of confidence that you are providing safe products; provide your customers and consumers with documented evidence; and enhance the protection of your brand reputation. Additionally, as larger cannabis retailers build supply chain controls, they will be seeking assurances that their suppliers not only provide good quality cannabis but are safe and will not cause foodborne illness.
GFSI certification is not easy to achieve. In fact, it will take time for the cannabis industry to build the appropriate infrastructure and expertise to be able to have a comprehensive food safety program that would meet GFSI standards. Canadian businesses are likely further along in this regard, as companies are gearing up for edibles legalization and are already under existing safety and quality regulations.
But even a start down the path toward achievement and the following of the GFSI requirements can significantly upgrade the quality as well as food safety of cannabis production. This is because GFSI attainment is achieved in four steps, each of which increases the standards of one’s program. As described at mygfsi.com, the phases are:
Phase 1. A self-assessment is carried out by the business against Basic and Intermediate level checklists to allow the business to decide its entry level to the program. From this, it determines whether to move to phase 2 or 3.
Phase 2. An unaccredited assessment of a business is carried out against the Basic Level requirements which include Food Safety Systems, Good Manufacturing or Agricultural Practices (GMP/GAP) and Control of Food Hazards. Recommended validity of this assessment is 12 months.
Phase 3. An unaccredited assessment of a business is carried out against the Intermediate Level requirements, which includes all basic requirements plus additional GMP or GAP, Food Safety Systems elements, CODEX Alimentarius and HACCP. Recommended validity of this assessment is 12 months.
Phase 4. The business undergoes an accredited assessment to become certified to one of the GFSI programs.
As this shows, GFSI certification is a process, and one which cannabis producers can use to improve their programs whether or not full certification is attained. We are still in the early days for cannabis producers, but we can expect this will be on the agenda of GFSI and its certification programs in the coming year as more cannabis businesses inquire about certification. And with GFSI certification getting to the point where it is a pre-requisite for the food supply chains as large retailers demand it of their suppliers, food manufacturers of their ingredient suppliers, and so on, we can expect the same to roll out at an even faster pace for cannabis producers.
Need assistance in reviewing your program for a gap analysis and/or compliance with GFSI or other standards? Contact HashTAG today and get a step ahead of the game!
Led by Dr. David Acheson, HashTAG is part of The Acheson Group (TAG), a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With a focus on the Cannabis Edibles Industry, the HashTAG team brings in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience to help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance. To learn more about HashTAG services and expertise, please visit: www.HashTAG.global