The commercial cannabis market has taken off in recent years with medical and later recreational sales. Still, an increasingly pervasive problem is threatening to grow much worse as the industry continues to mature. Microbial contaminants are one of the most common issues pressing the industry today, especially among flower producers, where mold and yeast pose a risk to immunocompromised patients or have weakened immune systems. 

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What is Microbial Mitigation?

Microbial mitigation is the practice of treating microbial contaminants, often yeast and mold, in cannabis plant material. It can also involve sanitizing surfaces where microorganisms reproduce themselves. Rising concerns over microbial pathogens among consumers, regulators, and cultivators alike have led to a flurry of activity and capital investment in the industry. As the industry grows, inflection points are being reached where larger producers have to up their game. Click here to learn how to get oil stuck at top of cartridge.

Different Testing Requirements Between States

With no solid answer on screening for microbial contaminants, cultivators end up bearing the risk of legal ramifications. Unfortunately, there is no widespread agreement between states on microbial screening requirements for cannabis products.

We can see one example of this in the inconsistency between Massachusetts and Colorado. While both states have legalized recreational cannabis, Colorado is more lenient for microbial testing standards. Colorado requires cultivators to submit their products for three tests: salmonella, E. coli, and mycotoxins from mold.

However, Massachusetts is much stricter with its testing requirements. It requires a full panel of tests for sanitary products: yeast, mold, coliforms (E. coli), aerobic bacteria, anaerobic bacteria, and bile-tolerant gram-negative bacteria. Can you hit a cartridge with a lighter? Learn more about concentrates here.

Problems With Sterilization

Some cultivators have turned to sterilization of their plant material using various methods to mitigate contamination. However, the efficacy of these techniques is questionable. Steam sterilization, for example, is ineffective because it does not kill mold spores or yeast cells buried within the plant material.

Another technique used is to soak cannabis in hydrogen peroxide or a bleach solution. While this may kill fungi, it also reduces the terpene content of the flower and can leave it wet and sticky. 

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Some cultivators and testing labs have turned to gamma irradiation as a solution, but this is an expensive process that can reduce the cannabinoid content of a flower. This is because gamma sterilization also kills or damages heat-sensitive components of cannabis.

Microbial Pests and Sources of Contamination

While the cannabis industry is still looking for a viable screening process to detect contamination, there are a few areas that cultivators can focus on to prevent microbial growth.

1) Packaging and Transport

The first place cultivators need to ensure that microbial contaminants don’t get into their product is in the packaging and transport of their products. This can be done by ensuring that the packaging is sealed correctly and that the load is clean.

2) Sanitation

Cultivators should ensure that their production facility is sanitized correctly. This starts with ensuring that all surfaces used in the production process are free of dust and debris. Any tools or machinery should be properly cleaned after each use, and the production area should have good airflow to prevent stagnant pockets of air from forming.

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3) Water Quality

There is a direct correlation between the quality of water and the level of microbial contaminants present in a product. Contaminated water can carry unwanted microorganisms and is dangerous to cannabis plants.

4) Pre-Harvesting

Pre-harvesting is the period before growers harvest their plants. During this time, cultivators should ensure that the plants are well-maintained through proper irrigation and other methods like drip emitters. The production environment should have good airflow to prevent unwanted pockets of stagnant air, and cultivators should monitor for signs of microbial growth.

5) Post-Harvesting

Once cultivators harvest their plants, they need to monitor the environment closely. As soon as the plant material is cut, it decays, attracting unwanted pests.

The most effective solution is to freeze-dry the cannabis for at least 24 hours before bringing it to a storage facility. This will ensure that the product is entirely devoid of moisture, which can cause microbial growth. Find out how to hit a cart with a lighter here.

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Microbial growth can cause significant problems in the cannabis industry. Contaminated flowers can lead to decreased yields, loss of product, and even health risks for consumers. To mitigate these risks, cultivators need to focus on prevention by ensuring that their production facility is clean and sanitized, that water is of high quality, and that they closely monitor the pre-and post-harvesting environments.