Quality Control Processes in Cannabis Manufacturing

As the cannabis industry evolves toward greater standardization, most markets now emphasize the need for good manufacturing processes (GMP). Data is an essential component in developing quality management systems and subsequent GMPs. This applies to the facility at large but also to the grow room.

But when it comes to the cultivation side of cannabis, meeting the strict requirements of GMP certifications poses a particular challenge due to the plant's morphological tendencies. How can you achieve consistency with a plant that defies control throughout its development? 

Enter the concept of in-process quality control: a series of checkpoints throughout a crop cycle that pulls data-driven insights on the final product. Through regularly scheduled check-ins with the cultivation room, it's possible to ensure the consistency, quality, and purity demanded within a GMP facility.

Applying In-Process Quality Control (IPQC) to Cannabis Cultivation

Cannabis cultivation aside for a moment, what are the broad principles of GMP certification? According to the ISPE, GMP certification is:

  • A quality approach to manufacturing, enabling companies to minimize or eliminate contamination, mixups, and errors
  • A method to address issues including record keeping, personnel qualifications, sanitation, cleanliness, equipment verification, process validation, and complaint handling
  • A means to reduce the risk of failure and the possible consequences of failure (recall, seizure, and fines)

Quality-Control-Processes-in-Cannabis-CultivatinBaked within these principles is a concept known as in-process quality controls, or IPQC, which are the “checks that are carried out before the manufacturing process is completed. The function of in-process controls is monitoring and if necessary adaption of the manufacturing process in order to comply with the specifications. This may include control of equipment and environment too.”

In-process quality controls are a means to an end: a consistent, predictable, and reliable final product. It's a concept directly applicable to cannabis cultivation.

But, as we mentioned, cannabis is a plant that fights consistency. Genetic variation, climate, and environmental inputs all encourage different outcomes, which is all the more reason why IPQCs make sense for cannabis cultivation. 

It's a data-driven approach to quality control to give producers the tools to ensure that the final check at harvest time verifies an expected outcome. In-process quality controls help a grower adjust and pivot to avoid costly surprises at the end of the crop cycle. 

Practical Considerations for Cultivation Quality Control

Part of the beauty of the cannabis industry is the diversity of cultivation methodologies, but it means there is no cookie-cutter rulebook to follow during the development of an IPQC program.

The general IPQC principles, as adapted in part from the FDA's current GMPs (cGMPs), are as follows:

  • Hygienic protocols to prevent contamination
  • Facility protocols for preventing biological, chemical, and physical contamination
  • Pest control protocols
  • Visual and physical plant inspection throughout all stages of growth
  • Analytic testing during mid and post-production
  • Routine audits of protocols
  • Product sampling and testing to ensure quality standards
  • Environmental and grow room data collection

In most commercial grow rooms, these steps are already happening, even without explicit SOPs. For example, employees likely have to wear PPE while working in the grow room; clones and/or seedlings must go through a quarantine process; and there are ongoing visual and physical inspections of the plants for pests and disease.

With many of these established practices within a commercial facility, it is just a matter of developing them into SOPs. By documenting procedures, setting measurable goals, and following a regular audit process, the path toward GMP certification is much less daunting.

Improving IPQC with Grow Room Data 

GMP is inherently a data-driven approach to manufacturing. Without a robust set of data points, it's not feasible to reproduce a safe and consistent product from one round to another. Data is the key to consistency, reliability, and quality, whether on the conveyor belt or in the cultivation room. 

In the grow room, it pays to go granular with data collection. Gathering environmental data from a network of sensors placed throughout the grow space provides cultivators unparalleled insight into plant health, development, and harvest outcomes.

Offering much more than great lighting, TSRgrow’s TOTALgrow Solution supports IPQC throughout the cannabis plant's life cycle by monitoring grow room environmental data, including temperature, humidity, electrical conductivity (EC), soil temperatures, and PPFD levels. Furthermore, GROWHub software provides recipe and zone control for TSRgrow’s advanced LED lighting - a game changer allowing cultivators to optimize light intensity per strain throughout the growth cycle of the plant.

Granular data provides the foundations of daily quality assurance checks. It's a way for cultivators to ensure environmental conditions are within preset parameters and strain grow recipes are accurately followed, providing more predictability come harvest time.

Additional data gleaned from mid- and post-production visual, physical, and analytical checks can further strengthen quality controls. Establishing scheduled verification points to compare against strain-specific metrics ensures production is not just on schedule but consistently meeting growth goals.

With rigorous IPQC checkpoints planned throughout the crop cycle, there should be no surprises and no quality issues come harvest time. The final check is a verification, delivering predictable results. Rigorous quality controls in the grow room help mitigate cultivation issues long before they hamper final product outcomes.

Paving the Way to GMP Certification With Grow Room Data

In the US and abroad, cannabis is quickly moving toward mandatory GMP certification for all aspects of cannabis manufacturing. 

While the general principles are flexible to the unique makeup of the facility, cultivating cannabis with the consistency required for this certification is only made possible with grow room data.

Does your grow room design deliver the required level of environmental control and monitoring? Does your lighting offer unlimited zone control to develop light intensity recipes for optimized strain cultivation? TSRgrow makes IPQC easy with an all-in-one system to manage lighting, power, and the environment. By integrating this level of detailed data into your processes, it's possible to grow a consistent quality flower in every cycle.


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