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How cannabis 2.0 product makers can avoid expensive recalls with shelf-stability testing

Cannabis 2.0 flooded online stores and retail shelves with exciting new items like infused beverages, chocolates, gummies and topicals. And while there are numerous regulations dictating the packaging, labelling and marketing standards for these new cannabis infused products, Health Canada has yet to apply the same standards for shelf-stability. So while you’ll find dozens of new confections available at your local cannabis retailer, you won’t find a best before date on many of them.

When browsing the local grocery store looking for your favourite foods you’ve come to expect that some grocery items are kept in long bays of fridges or freezers, while others are displayed at room temperature on open shelving. And on almost every item you buy, whether canned, fresh or frozen, you expect to find an expiry or best before date clearly marked on the package. So, what does it mean when we describe food as being ‘shelf-stable’? And, why don’t the newly available cannabis infused gummies, chocolates and beverages have best before dates listed on their packaging?

Why does the self-stability of your cannabis edibles matter?

Shelf stability, in general, refers to food that can sit on a shelf, at room temperature and maintain its quality, safety and sensory attributes over a set period of time, predetermined by the manufacturer. Some foods can last a long time on the shelf such as canned foods and juice boxes. Other foods, like bread or cookies will last several weeks or months but eventually won’t taste fresh or could get moldy after being opened and closed multiple times. Manufacturers usually put a ‘best-before’ date or ‘use-by’ date on products to provide guidance to their customers on how long they can expect the product to remain fresh on the shelf. That’s why shelf-stability testing is a common and often mandatory testing protocol that a product manufacturer must perform on all perishable products. It helps them determine how long a product will maintain its optimal freshness, efficacy or stability and the ideal temperature and humidity conditions required to maintain the product’s shelf-life. 

Despite the fact that shelf-stability testing is not yet required for all products under the Cannabis Act regulations, there are few things more embarrassing or costly for a company than a dreaded product recall. It is only a matter of time until cannabis edible manufactures will be held to the same standards as other consumer industries, and as cannabis formulations evolve in complexity, so must a company’s product testing strategy. 

Do you know what shifting variables like time, temperature, and humidity mean for your product? Does the product maintain its consistency, flavour, or clarity after 90 days on the shelf? Does it also maintain its effectiveness? 

You may be confident that your confection is perfect when it leaves the production lines, but what happens afterwards is just as important. Due diligence through stability and shelf-life testing helps mitigate risk against recalls and ensures you’re providing a consistent product experience for your consumers. Afterall, just because a product hasn’t ‘gone bad’ doesn’t mean it’s still ‘as good’ as when it was initially manufactured.

Factors that influence the stability and lifecycle of cannabis products

If you’re developing a cannabis confectionary, chocolate, baked good, or infused beverage, every ingredient in your formulation must be independently tested to meet the highest standards possible, or your reputation could be at risk. As the complexity of a formulation increases each new ingredient has the potential to shift the overall stability or life cycle of the end product. 

In addition to the ingredients used in your formulations, there are a number of external factors that can influence product stability over time including; composition factors (like pH and water activity) and environmental factors (like temperature, packaging and storage). At Labstat, our shelf-life and stability studies allow you to examine a product over a desired period of time (30, 60, 90+ days) through controlled conditions (- 25°C / 60% RH and 40°C / 75% RH, refrigerated and frozen) to determine an accurate expiry date for each formulation. We also investigate how your products’ physical, chemical, and microbial stability change through different testing conditions. 

Basically, the goal is to examine the ideal storage conditions and length of time that a product can sit in storage, or on the retail shelf and remain safe and desirable, before opening. This type of testing also helps determine suggested storing techniques like ‘store in a dark place’, or ‘refrigerate after opening’, and other helpful tips for consumers to ensure they have an optimal experience. 

Comprehensive testing helps tell the whole story of your product’s lifecycle

In addition to shelf-life and stability studies, there are a whole host of other testing protocols that 2.0 cannabis product makers should consider when developing infused and edible cannabis products. 

Cannabinoid Potency Analysis

Cannabinoids don’t spoil over time but they do degrade – so it’s vital to understand how potency changes throughout the lifecycle of the product. By conducting cannabinoid potency analysis over a variety of conditions and timelines we can create an estimate for peak freshness and potency. The teams at Labstat have the capacity to test for potency in several cannabinoids and cannabinoid acids. Under the Cannabis Act, each batch or lot of cannabis and/or cannabis product must be tested for potency and include THC and CBD on the product label.

Terpene Profiling

Terpene profiles are growing in popularity among consumers – especially in the edibles and beverages categories. Although terpene profiling is not required by Health Canada, we know the terpene profile of a particular cannabis formulation is a unique fingerprint and thus critical to your finished product’s performance and quality. Our labs utilize comprehensive gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to profile over 44 mono- and sesquiterpenes. 

Water Activity

Water activity is one of the most important parameters to measure food safety. To test water activity, we look for free water – not bound to ions or the surfaces of large molecules – in a food product. A high amount of free water is more likely to support microbial growth, and can also contribute to chemical and enzymatic reactions and spoilage processes. The lower the water activity, the less free water available to affect the stability of your product.

pH 

pH is the measure of the acidity of a product in solution. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity and the higher the pH, the more basic a solution is. The pH of foods will foremost impact the taste, as high-acidity foods are sour. The biochemical effect of food pH is the effect pH has on microbial growth, which is the predominant mechanism of food spoilage. Most of these microorganisms grow best under neutral conditions.

Understanding how all of these factors affect your product’s consistency, palatability, and potency will help you choose the right partners and the right inputs to produce the highest quality final products. 

Go beyond the basic requirements to gain the competitive edge

Shelf-life, degradation, shelf stability and other similar studies, while not currently required, are important due diligence for any forward thinking producer. By doing the proper product testing, using the ideal packaging, and including proper storage instructions, you can prolong the potency and consistency of your cannabis product and deliver a more desirable customer experience.  

Go beyond the required Health Canada testing standards to win the attention and loyalty of today’s demanding consumers. Give your cannabis 2.0 products the edge in consistency and efficacy, contact the team at Labsat to learn more about how our full-service labs are equipped to test all types of consumable cannabis and hemp products.

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