What to Know About Quality Processes for Cannabis Edibles

By
Sean Arnold
March 21, 2022

In the first installment of our series “What to Know About Quality Processes in the Cannabis Industry”, we discussed the basics of building quality in cannabis strategy. Now, we’re zooming in to examine edibles. Edibles are their very own market, and it’s imperative to pay attention to quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) aspects such as ingredients and production processes. We’ll address variables in edible quality at each step of the process, from development and production all the way through to packaging. 

Primary Considerations for Ensuring Edible Quality 

There are multiple considerations to ensure quality in edible formulations, from production setup and ingredient sourcing through the packaging process. Consider how edibles differentiate in form. The market consists of a large variety of confections, baked goods, and beverages, each encompassing a unique deliver matrix. Furthermore, the difference in ingredients can impart nuanced differences in texture, aroma, flavor, and stability. Let’s not forget the most important variable, the active ingredient. Some edibles are created with full-spectrum formulations while others are created using distillates or isolates. In order to deliver a quality process, producers must be intimately familiar with these variations. 

Prioritize elements of consistency made possible by automation. Consistency should offer the same dosage over a high yield, granting a standardized ingredient profile and portion control, which are critical during formulation and product development. Moreover, account for the fundamentals such as variance and tolerance. Variance observes differences, while tolerance determines the maximum degree to which differences can shape the production process. These elements are vital to ensure consistent dosing and experience across your edible cannabis products.

Variables to Consider in Edible Development

As you hone your approach to developing your edible products, keep these variables at the forefront. Ask yourself what edible product are you making, then consider its various components and the quality options of each. Depending on the delivery method, your edible formulation may involve different processes which can influence the desired results. Knowing the tolerance parameters of your ingredients is essential to maintaining product integrity and consistency. If you’re targeting a specific cannabinoid or terpene formulation, process parameters are just as important as ingredient selection, to deliver a consistent product. 

Consider Your Target Consumer Audience 

While hammering down your ingredient selection, be sure you are prepared to market those inclusions appropriately. If you’re seeking to target organic or vegan edible consumers, have the proper ingredients to prove it. You should also consider your active ingredient, including advanced processing methods. With applications such as nanotech in edibles, address how to best harness that technology within your formula. Exploring a niche necessitates knowledge, especially in a burgeoning field like nanotech. Keep up to date with the research, and work alongside experts to achieve your goals. 

Use Edible Ingredients Correctly

While developing cannabis products, be sure to use ingredients for their intended and safety-approved purposes. When the vape crisis hit in 2019, it exposed what little knowledge some producers had regarding vitamin E acetate and associated lung injury. Edibles are meant to be consumed; be sure to use food-grade ingredients so your products are safe for consumption. 

Not All Ingredients Are Equal

If your company is searching to cut gross costs in ingredient formulation, remember that different ingredients can lead to different results, especially when using confections and specialty ingredients. Consult the specification sheets on your functional ingredients to identify what elements may lead to compromised product quality, such as faster degradation and decreased shelf-life stability. Variables such as light, oxygen and heat degrade cannabis compounds and ingredients, negatively impacting quality. Due to their sensitive nature, terpene loss begins shortly after harvest and continues throughout the supply chain from processing and manufacturing to delivery and storage. 

Design a Functional Edible Creation Process

The cannabis industry is evolving without traditional Federal Drug Administration (FDA) oversight, leaving state entities to guide processes and procedures. Edibles are ingested, meaning it’s crucial to implement a safety-backed process to protect your consumers. While designing your cannabis edible creation process, implement mandatory standard operating procedures (SOPs) and keep detailed records to calculate cannabis consumer safety and maintain compliance. 

Improper edible process design can impact food safety and product stability. Dedicate time to checking in on aspects such as shelf-life stability to ensure safe storage and appropriate temperature control. Moreover, stay on top of safe edible packaging procedures. For example, since not all plastic is air-tight, some plastic packaging will have moisture permeability. Packaging compatibility and shelf life stabilities also occasionally lack state regulation. Although it may seem like a lot to keep track of, your customers and bottom line will thank you. 

Quality Assurance in Edible Packaging 

Often, cannabis edibles have to abide by strict packaging regulations. Packaging material can come in many different layers and strengths. Be sure to purchase packaging materials that support the preservation of your product’s quality. If you are working with child-resistant packaging, guarantee the material is indeed child-resistant. Otherwise, this can create undue risk and liability concerns. Incorporate process validation to ensure your intermediate steps are delivering the results and products that meet all its design requirements. Although your edible product cannot be FDA-certified, following federal guidelines for food and beverage products will limit the disruption when the cannabis industry becomes federally regulated. 

Wrapping a Successful Edible Quality Process

When it comes to a successful process design, it’s crucial to harmonize your practices with the objective metrics you have associated with these processes and defined measurements. Furthermore, develop standards and benchmarks that will streamline the evaluation of key performance indicators (KPIs) and SOPs. Edible quality strategies are often process-specific, meaning you’ll need contingency plans in the event of supply chain disruptions. For instance, petroleum jelly, a base ingredient in many topicals, comes in a variety of grades and from numerous suppliers.  Since it’s derived from petroleum, it’s susceptible to disruptions in the oil and gas supply chain.  Having knowledge of these relationships and building contingency plans into your business model will reduce disruptions and improve your chances of maintaining quality outputs.

Finally, product hand-off is crucial. If your product is sensitive, ensure its integrity with the proper environment. Cannabis chocolates and gummies are particularly temperature-sensitive. If you’ve followed each quality control metric, but do not account for this, it can ruin your product and severely affect product dosage. Take the time and every opportunity to educate distributors and consumers on the ideal storage and its impact on your product's quality.

Conclusion

Edibles are a key component of the cannabis industry. If you are an edible manufacturer, harnessing science and knowledge can bring success and instill trust in your consumers. The difference in edible quality often resides in the details, from ingredient development through to point of sale and beyond. While every edible has its own unique challenges, we hope this post was able to offer you a solid primer on the elements that must be considered to assure quality.  

Do you need assistance developing products with a quality assurance strategy to bring transparency to your target consumer? Terradigm can help. Whether you’re seeking innovative formula development or quality control guidance, contact us today to learn about how we can support you in achieving your manufacturing objectives.