Overcome the challenges of hemp and food safety with better testing Listen with ReadSpeaker Our expertise

Overcome the challenges of hemp and food safety with better testing

In several markets around the world, the use of hemp in food-related products has grown rapidly. As more consumers are exposed to these products, food safety has become a key concern for producers and regulators.

Hemp, or more specifically for this article, industrial hemp, is grown specifically for industrial use in a wide range of products like paper, rope, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, biofuels, animal feed, and food. Industrial hemp and cannabis as a drug are both derived from the cannabis sativa plant species and contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). However, they are distinct strains with unique phytochemical compositions and applications.

According to a study by Facts and Factors, the global industrial hemp market is expected to reach USD 36 billion by 2026 growing by more than 34 percent annually.

Industrial hemp is a highly regulated crop across the world and the legal use of industrial hemp varies widely between markets in terms of how to grow, process, distribute, and use it. The North American region is projected to have the largest share in the market owing to the surging demand for industrial hemp products. The use of hemp in the US is projected to surpass USD 20 billion by 2024.


Recently, Illinois became the latest state in the US to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. On that first day, Illinois’ 37 dispensaries sold more than USD 3 million worth of cannabis products or an average of nearly USD 100,000 per store. Two weeks after, sales surpassed USD 20 million. Thirty-three US states have enacted some form of legalized marijuana with others considering enacting or expanding legalization this year.


In Asia, the industrial hemp market size is also growing particularly in the medical and food sectors. China is the largest producer of industrial hemp products and has a well-established supply chain. Meanwhile, as new regulatory developments unfold in Thailand, several local companies have stated their intentions to develop new foods, supplements, and beverages containing hemp.

Cannabis suppliers have brought thousands of new products to market including many foods and beverages. However, significant business, civil and regulatory risks remain a challenge in many markets. For now, the FDA continues to ban the use of cannabidiol (CBD) as a food additive but many companies have pressed forward with transnational sales of CBD-infused foods and beverages.


1. Production process: dosing

Dosing, which refers generally to the amount of active ingredient like CBD or THC in a serving, presents a two-fold challenge for producers of cannabis edibles: serving size and homogeneity.


Unfortunately, there is no standardized THC dosing protocol and products that appear to be similar can have highly variable THC levels. Moreover, due to physiological differences and other variables, like tolerance, effects are highly individualized.


2. Production process: homogenization

The other aspect of dosing is homogenization, which refers to the distribution of an active ingredient in a product. Cannabis molecules tend to localize, which can lead to an uneven distribution of the active ingredients creating “hot spots” and irregular concentrations.


As this affects both THC and CBD-infused products, ensuring cannabis products are properly homogenized is important for the safety of consumers and the well-being of your business. To mitigate the risk, producers of cannabis-infused foods and beverages should conduct thorough potency testing of their products and develop homogenization procedures that will ensure the reliably even distribution of active ingredients.  


3. Contamination

Cannabis, like any agricultural commodity, is at risk of becoming contaminated with microbes such as pathogens, molds, and yeast as well as pesticides and heavy metals. Following the legislation of cannabis products for either medicinal or recreational use in several markets, such products now need to be scrutinized for contaminants to the same extent as food or pharmaceuticals.


  • Aspergillus. We breathe in spores of Aspergillus daily and most of its species are harmless. But for the cannabis industry, there are four species (A. fumigatus, A. flavus, A. niger and A. terreus) that are considered a health risk to medicinal cannabis users who have underlying health conditions


  • Mycotoxins. These are secondary metabolites produced by molds. The formation of mycotoxins depends on regional and seasonal environmental conditions like food availability, the moisture content in substrate and surrounding air, temperature and pH value. Where conditions are right, fungi proliferate into colonies and mycotoxin levels become high. Uncured or inadequately processed marijuana plant material could offer the right conditions for the growth of molds

At DKSH, we provide leading solutions to help detect Aspergillus using innovative DNA signature capturing technology that combines very simple protocols and workflows with rapid results, accuracy, and specificity. This molecular testing platform is very easy to use and does not require sophisticated lab infrastructure. It targets diversified customer segments in the food and beverage industry like beer, wine, poultry, juices, and nutraceuticals.


We also have a real-time PCR system to help you perform food safety tests that quickly and accurately detect foodborne pathogens in a broad range of foods and associated samples.


DKSH’s solution to detect and analyze mycotoxins helps businesses save laboratory space while maintaining the performance required for high-throughput analyses.

As cannabis is a complex mixture of chemicals, testing, and analysis of trace constituents like THC and CBD are essential in ensuring the safety, efficacy, and quality of products. It is important to be aware of the different testing methods and regulatory demands for each market you are going into.

It is also advisable to prepare a comprehensive environmental monitoring program to reduce the risk of product recalls. Reach out to DKSH for more information on the solutions and support to ensure your products are correctly monitored and distributed to consumers.


Julien Pastor

About the author

Julien Pastor is the new Director, Business Development, Food & Beverage, Business Unit Technology. Julien brings with him 14 years of relevant working experience across industries such as Food & Beverage, Veterinary, Pharma and Biotechnology. Julien ran his own consulting business with focus on food & pharma lab solutions creating digital content on YouTube and LinkedIn for global clients. Before that he held different regional positions at Becton Dickinson, Qiagen and BioMerieux and was the Chief Commercial Officer for Argolight.