The intersection of marijuana and food safety

I hate missing hockey. Skipping my Monday night game was worth it though; I spent some time with some old friends at the Rocky Mountain Food Safety Conference in Denver. I’d been with the good folks of Colorado before, speaking at the conference in 2006 (and again virtually with Doug a couple of years ago).

Sometimes food safety meetings have similar slots: updates on recent outbreaks, a company’s new training strategy or someone talking about environmental sampling. The Rocky Mountain Food Safety Conference was different. I spent an afternoon learning about keeping marijuana and food products safe.

I found it fascinating.

Doug often cites a Neil Young quote that guides a lot of stuff that I do ‘Heart of Gold put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.’ Farmers’ markets, food pantries, roadkill. These are all in the food safety ditch. So is pot.

I learned that marijuana (and the active compounds of THC and CBD) can be consumed in lots of different ways – smoking is the somewhat traditional way, but there’s vaping, edibles (cookies, candies, chocolates, etc) and even suppositories, tampons and personal lubricants. Who knew.

What was really compelling is the intricacies of the regulations and enforcement. The state health folks are in a tough spot because they receive federal funds – and the product is still seen as illegal by the feds. This has led to some local health departments have stepped in to regulating not only just the retail stores on how they handle the food and other products – but also the marijuana infused product processing. I’ve said that environmental health specialists are the salt of the earth; passionate protectors of public health and have some of the very best stories. It’s heartening to see folks who know food safety stuff putting together a framework of science-based guidelines for pathogen control, pesticides and other risky compounds. They’re trailblazers since there’s not a whole lot to go on. They look to LACF thermal death curves for C. bot spore inactivation in oils and tinctures (these aren’t highly refined oils) and requiring folks to manage cleaning and sanitation using GMP and the Food Code as a guide. There are risks, marijuana smoking was linked to a 1981 outbreak of salmonellosis (an oldie but a goodie) and some of the edibles out there have the correct pH and water activity to support the growth of pathogens.

And labeling, serving/dose size matters.

My guess is that there are a few processors who are really good at the THC part of things – and not so good at the food safety. It’s cool that the local regulators are working with them to keep the stoners safe.

I got back in time for my hockey game tonight.

Maybe they replaced it with pot: Australian suppliers caught selling oregano mixed with other leaves

Before marijuana could be bought at a dispensary – Australia, you’re so behind the times on this, same-sex marriage and asylum seekers – would-be middle-school dealers would often pass off bags of oregano as weed.

oregano-marijuanaThose who smoked it got a headache: they did not get high.

A couple of Australian supermarkets were caught doing a similar bait and switch.

Food fraud.

Esther Han of the Canberra Times reports Aldi and supermarket supplier Menora have admitted to selling nearly 190,000 units of adulterated oregano products over a one-year period and have promised never – never ever double secret probation promise — to do it again.

The budget grocery chain and Menora have signed court enforceable undertakings with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, committing to conduct annual testing of the composition of their herb and spice products.

Aldi sold more than 126,800 units of its Stonemill oregano across its 400 stores in 2015, documents show. And 61,480 Menora-branded products were sold at Coles, Woolworths, IGA and other stores in NSW, Vic, WA and SA in the same year.

They claimed the products were 100 per cent dried oregano leaves, despite a “substantial presence of olive leaves”.

“This is extremely bad behaviour. I don’t think it’s in anybody’s head that you’re getting anything other than pure oregano and our message to retailers is: ‘Check the products you’re selling,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims.

“The offer of refunds is there. If you take back the empty container you’ll get a refund, take back proof of purchase, you’ll get a refund.”

The undertakings follow an investigation by consumer group Choice, which in April said laboratory tests showed seven out of 12 popular oregano products were less than 50 per cent oregano leaves. They were instead bulked out with olive and sumac leaves.

The worst offender was Master of Spices, which was only 10 per cent oregano, followed by Hoyt’s, at 11 per cent, and Aldi’s Stonemill, at 26 per cent.

The test results showed Spice & Co and Menora’s products were only a third oregano, Spencers was 40 per cent and G Fresh was 50 per cent.

Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said as dried oregano was a fixture in most kitchens across the country, the undertakings were a real win for Australian consumers.

“We need be able to trust what is written on the labels of the foods we purchase in our supermarkets,” he said.

THC found in Colorado town water well

Residents of a small farming community in eastern Colorado have been warned to avoid drinking the town’s water after THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana, was found in one of its feeder wells, authorities said on Thursday.

cheechandchongA public works employee in Hugo, a town of about 800 people 90 miles southeast of Denver, detected the chemical and health officials believe it is “marijuana THC-related,” the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook posting.

“At this time, investigators are assessing the situation with state and federal authorities,” the sheriff’s office said. “Bathroom usage is still safe, but until more information is known to us, out of an abundance of caution, avoid drinking Town of Hugo water.”

Peter Perrone, a chemist and owner of the state-licensed cannabis testing facility, Gobi Analytical in suburban Denver, said he was skeptical of the reports.

“It’s virtually impossible to find THC in water in concentrated levels because cannabinoids are not water soluble,” Perrone told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Captain Michael Yowell of the sheriff’s office said he understands that some are questioning how THC could be found in the water, but that does not explain why the tests came up positive for the chemical.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job for the community if we just wrote this off,” he said.

Dave’s not here: Denver health officials issue food safety advisory for marijuana pills

Denver health officials have issued a food safety advisory for RX Green’s “Autopilot” capsules, a marijuana-infused product.

daves.not.hereThe city’s health department says any of the manufacturer’s Omega-3 and THC pills made before Sept. 17 should be discarded. The products have a license number of 404R-00109 on their package.

“The advisory is due to concerns regarding the manufacturing process and lack of temperature controls in place to prevent bacterial growth,” Denver’s Department of Environmental Health said in an advisory on Friday. “There have been no reports of illness at this time.”

“This advisory has been issued as a result of a food safety inspection.”

Josh Meacham, spokesman for RX Green, said the advisory is based on an incomplete analysis by Denver health officials, explaining that an inspector failed to fully analyze the marijuana operation’s standard procedures.

“We stand by our product 100 percent,” he said.

Surveys still suck, but for fun, more Americans want to ban unpasteurized milk than marijuana

It’s not hard to imagine: milk fiends buying illegal, unpasteurized milk in darkened back alleys. Shady dealers running shipments of raw milk across the Mexican-American border. A high-speed police chase down I-95, the suspects tossing gallons of unpasteurized milk out the window in a frantic effort to ditch the evidence.

marketbAn underground black market for unpasteurized milk like the kind that exists for marijuana is, of course, absurd. But it’s still fun to imagine, because more Americans today want to ban the sale of raw milk than marijuana, according to a recent study. Some 59% of Americans support a ban on the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk, while just 47% support a ban on the sale of marijuana, according to Oklahoma State University’s Food Demand Survey. The U.S. currently has a patchwork of different laws regarding raw milk. States like New York and Iowa ban the retail sale of raw milk, while California and Idaho permit it.

Don’t eat stray cereal bars; they may be hash bars

French police were investigating today how a bag of hashish resin blocks, eaten by kids who mistook them for breakfast cereal bars, came to be left in the grounds of a school.

The students told teachers that they found the package containing the "leafy-flavored breakfast bars" hidden between a bush and the school fence during recess Friday, Le Progres newspaper reported.

One child from the school for six to 11 year olds in Tarentaize, near St. Etienne, in central France, was rushed to the hospital later that evening by his worried mother, along with a piece of the "leafy" bar.

Tests confirmed the bar that contained cannabis resin, and the boy was sent home. None of the other children who ate the bars became ill.

French farmer kept ducks stoned to prevent worms; court says no

A 60-year-old duck farmer in France received a one-month suspended sentence and a 500 Euro fine after providing cannabis to his waterfowl.

During the hearing the farmer admitted that he also smoked "a little" marijuana and he justified giving it to his 150 ducks as a "purge." He said there is no better way to deworm the birds. He said was advised to do so, but would not name the specialist who gave the advice.

The farmer was caught after he reported a theft at his home in October. Police arrived to discover 12 marijuana plants and a 5 kilo bag of weed.

The police said this was the first time they have seen anything like this even though they are quite accustomed to hearing silly excuses when it comes to narcotics (or that’s how Amy translated that sentence; thanks to Albert for the story tip).

It’s 4:20 somewhere: dinner and a buzz at Denver’s Ganja Gourmet

The Los Angeles Times reports that one of the latest "Dinner Buzz Specials" at the Ganja Gourmet, was described as,

"Start with our ganjanade [ganja tapenade], bread and a fat dank joint! Then choose from a slice of pizza or LaGanja [lasagna]. Then top it off with a Ganja Gourmet dessert, your choice, $30."

Technically, the Ganja Gourmet is a medical marijuana dispensary, one of many that have sprung up this year throughout Colorado.

Nine years after voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, state health officials decided in July to end a five-patient limit for marijuana suppliers. The numbers of both registered patients and dispensaries have exploded.

At least 15,000 people have applied to join the 15,800 already on the state registry of patients. Although no official tally exists of the number of new dispensaries, dozens have opened — so many that Westword, a Denver newspaper, hired two critics to review them.

Ganja Gourmet owner Steve Horwitz, a 51-year-old Long Island, N.Y., native who said he has used marijuana since his teens to cope with attention-deficit disorder, said,

"I already knew I loved to eat pot."

His chefs "medicate" the dishes by cooking them with butter or olive oil infused with marijuana. The infusion process can take several days of simmering an ounce of marijuana in one pound of butter or one cup of oil.

Horwitz remains convinced of a bright future; his pipe dream is to eventually ship his creations all over the country.

"I’ll be the Omaha Steaks of medical marijuana.”

Cheech and Chong may be the cooks: why people shouldn’t purchase brownies from streets vendors

I can’t wait until Sorenne goes to pre-school, only to be greeted by a teacher giggling, muttering to herself, “Dave’s not here.”

That’s what happened in April, 2009, when the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) notified officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) in California about a group of preschool teachers with nausea, dizziness, headache, and numbness and tingling of fingertips after consumption of brownies purchased 3 days before from a sidewalk vendor.

As reported in today’s U.S. Centers for Disease Control weekly update, “the findings also underscore the need to consider marijuana as a potential contaminant during foodborne illness investigations and the importance of identifying drug metabolites by testing of clinical specimens soon after symptom onset.

On the morning of April 7, 2009, a preschool teacher put brownies, which she had purchased on April 5, on a table in a break room to share with staff. The day before, she also had given two brownies to her adult son at home. Five preschool teachers (not including the teacher who had purchased the brownies) and the teacher’s adult son were the only persons who ate the brownies. Each person ate only one brownie. At approximately 1:30 p.m., the preschool director and the administrator noticed that one of the teachers suddenly looked drowsy and was complaining of drowsiness, ataxia, dizziness, shortness of breath, and numbness and tingling of the face, forehead, arms, and hands. When the director and administrator learned that the teacher who had shared the brownies had purchased them from a sidewalk vendor for a church fundraiser, they suspected the affected teacher’s drowsiness was associated with her ingestion of the brownie 30 minutes before onset of symptoms. The teacher did not seek medical care.

The brownies were sold as single, unlabeled units, individually wrapped in plastic wrap, costing $1.50 each. The preschool director contacted the head pastor of the church, who reported that the church had not held a fundraiser, and the pastor subsequently notified LAPD to investigate. After interviewing persons at the church and the preschool, LAPD suspected foodborne illness and contacted DPH on April 8.
 

Dave’s not here, man – but THC may fight bacteria

Cheech and Chong are back on the road and researchers in Italy and Britain have found that the main active ingredient in marijuana — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — and related compounds show promise as antibacterial agents, particularly against microbial strains that are already resistant to several classes of drugs.

The N.Y. Times reports,

“It has been known for decades that Cannabis sativa has antibacterial properties. Experiments in the 1950s tested various marijuana preparations against skin and other infections, but researchers at the time had little understanding of marijuana’s chemical makeup.

“The current research … looked at the antibacterial activity of the five most common cannabinoids. All were found effective against several common multi-resistant bacterial strains, although, perhaps understandably, the researchers suggested that the nonpsychotropic cannabinoids might prove more promising for eventual use.”