Interview with the Author: Kathy Knutson, PhD
Food Safety Lessons for Cannabis-Infused Edibles
ImEPIK works with multiple industry experts when developing our online food safety courses, and we wanted to take a moment to recognize one in particular.
Kathy Knutson, PhD, was an integral player in creating ImEPIK’s Cannabis Edibles Safety Course©. Kathy consults internationally with food manufacturers and producers of cannabis edibles and is both a food safety and regulatory expert, having taught more than 30 workshops for Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals.
Earlier this year she released “Food Safety Lessons for Cannabis-Infused Edibles,” so we asked her to talk a little bit about the book as part of an author Q&A session. The book is also featured in ImEPIK’s cannabis safety course.
What was your inspiration for the book?
I knew that there must be many people out in the world, like me, who had no experience with edibles but had valuable knowledge to share with the cannabis industry. I wrote the book for them and was able to share my learnings and some funny situations. Where there is cannabis, there is humor.
What are the top three reasons cannabis professionals need this resource?
- Introduction to cannabis-infused edibles. There is a lot of curiosity about the science of cannabis and cannabis-infused edibles. The book includes an introduction to the basics of cannabis for the novice, like I once was. I had a two-year learning curve and continue to build my understanding of an ever-changing and growing industry. I include the lessons I learned as someone who had never touched cannabis.
- FDA is on the way. I just heard this phrase in a recent webinar and I like the cadence. As a food scientist with expertise in food safety and FDA regulation I, like many, agree that the FDA will soon regulate cannabis-infused products. The book shares my knowledge of food safety regulation by FDA and how it applies to edibles. The edibles industry is preparing now for future FDA regulation and is adopting the knowledge and tools used by the food industry (e.g., water activity monitoring, allergen management, and verification of sanitation through environmental monitoring programs).
- State regulation is evolving. The cannabis industry needs decriminalization, descheduling and legislation at the federal level. Until then, we have 50 state codes and territory codes that are all different from each other, which is a nightmare. Cannabis professionals can influence cannabis regulation at the local and state levels now. The more you know the better prepared you will be to push for changes or inclusions in regulation. I am an educator at heart, and the book allowed me to reach more people.
How will your book help cannabis professionals develop their career further?
I often get asked if it is too late to get a job in the cannabis industry, and the answer is “No!” Whatever your current expertise is in a particular industry, you can apply those same skills in the cannabis industry. The food industry is filled with professionals who came from other industries. It is the same with the cannabis industry. I just heard a speaker say, “if you have eight years in the cannabis industry, you have seniority.” I would amend that to five years and you have seniority. The book talks about cannabis careers and training in the cannabis industry.
What unique challenges do professionals in the cannabis-infused edibles space face?
The cannabis industry is coming into the light of legal operation from the dark of the black market. The black market is also alive and thriving while folks work to manufacture and sell legal edibles. You occasionally still find individuals with the mentality that they should hide from the government, but it is fading. I have been pleasantly surprised to hear many professionals support a new age of working as a professional in the cannabis industry and expecting all employees to behave professionally. The industry is growing to be known as a legal, reputable industry along peer sectors such as pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, food, tobacco and alcohol.
What is the most important lesson for readers to take away from this book?
Implement an Environmental Monitoring Program (EMP). Cannabis-infused edibles are ready-to-eat. The FDA requires manufacturers of ready-to-eat foods to implement a sanitation preventive control for the cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces and non-food contact surfaces to control environmental pathogens. The EMP is a verification activity for the efficacy of the sanitation preventive control. I am currently not aware of state regulation requiring an EMP as does FDA. In addition to getting ahead of FDA regulation, implementing an EMP serves to protect the immunocompromised consumer of edibles from potential pathogens.
What should cannabis professionals expect or look out for in 2021?
State regulations. The states of Arizona, New Jersey and South Dakota passed adult use regulations in November 2020. South Dakota is the first state to pass both medicinal marijuana and adult use at the same time. Along with South Dakota, Montana and Mississippi voted in medicinal marijuana making it legal in 36 U.S. states.
Global economy. The United States is falling behind as other countries legalize cannabis. Global production and trade, and opportunities for research are growing for countries that have legalized cannabis.
Pesticides. The science of pesticides is daunting for application to the plant, laboratory testing, regulation, and potential harm to the consumer from smoke and vape products. Consumers may turn to edibles to avoid the inhalation of potentially harmful by-products of pesticides. Smart people are working on this but there is not enough data yet.
Find out more about “Food Safety Lessons for Cannabis-Infused Edibles” or purchase the book on Elsevier’s website.
Safety Training for Cannabis Professionals
For food safety training designed specifically with the cannabis professional in mind, check out ImEPIK’s Cannabis Edibles Safety Course©.
Level I: GMPs and the Pyramid of Edible Safety is a good primer on food safety basics for practically anyone. Level II: The Edibles Safety Plan is geared toward managers and members of the team that will not only create the edible safety plan but will need in-depth knowledge of the production environment to implement it.