As the COO of Los SueÃ±os Farms, the largest outdoor cannabis farm in the country, I was tasked with the challenge of finding a method of treating yeasts and molds that would ensure safe and healthy cannabis. for all our customers while respecting the strict regulations. .
While outdoor cannabis is not inherently moldy, outdoor farms are vulnerable to changing weather conditions. The wind carries spores, which can cause mold. Each spore is a colony forming unit if it is spread out in a lab, even if it did not germinate in the final product. In other words, perfectly good cannabis can easily fail microbial tests with the presence of benign spores.
If all of these landed on cannabis, that would be enough to cause the tests of over 450 pounds of cannabis to fail, even if those spores had not germinated.
You should also be aware that almost all food items purchased from a store go through some type of sanitation method to be considered safe to sell. Cannabis is finally becoming a legitimized industry and each year we will see regulations that make cannabis production more like food production.
Regulations Colorado (as well as Nevada and Canada) require cannabis to have a total yeast and mold count (TYMC) 10,000 colony forming units per gram. We needed a safe, reliable, efficient and suitable TYMC treatment method for large-scale operation. Our main problem was the presence of fungal spores, not live molds.
Below is a short list of the pros and cons of each treatment method that I have compiled after two years of research:
Autoclave: This is the same technology that is used to sterilize tattoo needles and medical equipment. The autoclave uses heat and pressure to kill living things. Although extremely efficient, readily available, and financially reasonable, this method is time consuming and cannot handle large batches. It also uses moisture, which increases the risk of mold. The final product can undergo decarboxylation and change in color, taste and odor.
Dry heat: Placing cannabis in dry heat is a very inexpensive method that is effective in reducing molds and yeasts. However, this totally ruins the product unless you plan to extract it.
Gamma radiation: By applying gamma radiation, microbial growth is reduced in plants without affecting potency. This is a very efficient, fast and scalable method that does not cause terpene loss or decarboxylation. However, it uses ionizing radiation which can create new chemical compounds that were not present before, some of which can be carcinogenic. The Department of Homeland Security will never allow US cannabis growers to use this method because it relies on a radioactive isotope to create gamma rays.
Gas treatment: (Ozone, Propylene oxide, Ethylene oxide, Sulfur dioxide) Gas treatment is inexpensive, readily available, and treats the entire product. Processing of gases takes time and must be handled with care, as all of these gases are toxic to humans. Ozone is difficult to scale while PPO, EO and SO2 are very scalable. Gases require special installations to be applied and it is important to note that gases such as PPO and EO are carcinogenic. These methods introduce chemicals into the cannabis and can affect the final product by reducing terpenes, aroma and flavor.
Hydrogen peroxide: Spraying cannabis plants with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide can reduce yeasts and molds. However, humidity is increased, which can cause otherwise benign spores to germinate. This method only treats the surface level of the plant and is not an effective sanitation treatment. It also causes extreme oxidation, burning the cannabis and removing terpenes.
Microwave: This method is readily available for small scale use and is non-chemical and non-ionizing. However, it causes uneven heating, scorching the product, which damages terpenes and drastically reduces the quality. This method can also cause moisture loss. Microwave processing is difficult to scale and is not optimal for large growers.
Radio frequency: This method is organic, non-toxic, non-ionizing and non-chemical. It is also scalable and efficient; the processing time is very fast and it processes all the product at one time. There is no decarboxylation or loss of potency with radiofrequency treatment. Minimal moisture and terpene loss can result. This method has been proven over a decade of use in the food industry and will likely become the standard in large-scale processing facilities.
Steam treatment: Water vapor treatment is effective in other industries, scalable, organic, and readily available. This method wets the cannabis, introducing an additional risk of mold, and only treats the surface of the product. It also uses heat, which can cause decarboxylation, and takes a long time to process. This is not an effective method of reducing TYMC in cannabis, although it works very well for other agricultural products.
Extraction: Use of supercritical gases such as butane, heptane, carbon dioxide or hexane in the cannabis extraction process is the only remedial method approved by the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division and is guaranteed to kill almost everything. It is also readily available and easy to access. However, this time-consuming method will turn your final product into a concentrate instead of a flower and is usually a high loss of profit.
UV light: This is an inexpensive and readily available method with limited effectiveness. UV light is only effective on certain organisms and does not work well at killing mold spores. It also only kills what the light hits, unless the ozone is captured by the photolysis of oxygen near the UV lamp. It takes time and is very difficult to scale.
After exhaustively testing and researching all treatment methods, we chose radiofrequency therapy as the best option. MOUNTAIN PEAK, a radio frequency processing machine created by Ziel, allowed us to process 100 pounds of cannabis in one hour – a critical factor when harvesting 36,000 plants in the October harvest.