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George Terry, Rad Source Technologies:

“It’s important to prevent microbes from multiplying after the decontamination process”

The cannabis industry has seen many announcements of recalled cannabis products due to yeast, mold, Aspergillus, and more. When a product is made for human consumption, like cannabis, public safety is of course of high importance. So where are things going wrong? "Many people don't realize that microbes continue to multiply, unless they are completely brought down to 0 or too few to detect," says George Terry, Executive Vice President of Rad Source Technologies. This is why many prescription drugs and medical devices are treated by photons. "For example, if a state has a limit of 10,000 CFU for mold, someone can obviously pass the test if their products have 8,000 CFU. Yet when the product is taken off the shelves for sale a while later, it may test at 70,000 CFU or even more. For Aspergillus, a sometimes lethal spore, it has to be Not Present inside and outside of the flower. Therefore, it's important to use a decontamination technology that can bring those numbers down as close to 0." According to George, it is even more important for medical patients who may be impacted by microbials, which is why Rad Source is now GMP-ready.

Photonic decontamination
George explains that Rad Source Technology is a medical company by origin. "We specialize in medical blood irradiation, viral inactivation, and Sterile Insect Technique, among other things. We have lots of experience in decontamination and decided to start catering to cannabis 5 years ago." So how does cannabis decontamination work? "A photon is used to destroy the DNA of microbes, making them non-viable. That means that they are not living and can't reproduce." Originally, this method is done by using radio-active gamma irradiators. "We use the same technology but at a much lower power, which is not radio-active. Our wavelength is just above UV, so it penetrates fully but is gentle on the product. Since our wavelength is about the size of an atom, It's small enough to penetrate the molecule and attack the DNA without disrupting other parts of the cell, like THC and terpenes."

Not all x-ray is the same. In fact, Rad Source's x-ray technology is patented. "For over 100 years, x-ray technology has always been what you might find in an industrial or hospital setting. An electron hits a target, and then it shoots out photons. These photons go through a tube and onto the cannabis like a flashlight. This is called a point source X-ray. Yet as you can see, when a flashlight shines on a table, the center of the light is very bright, and it gets dimmer towards the edges. When you think of the light as photons, that means you've got to overexpose the center of the canister to get an even distribution of photons through the product." Therefore, Rad Source's has reinvented the X-ray tube. "Instead of sending out that point-source type of beam, which would be like a cone, it is now more like a circle. Within the circle, it gives an even distribution of photons." George explains that this provides a great benefit for treating cannabis. "Instead of having your products overtreated in the middle and undertreated on the edge, this technology is able to treat the whole product uniformly. We now have a uniform dose of photons to efficiently disrupt the microbes." This matters because the lower the exposure, the lower the impact on the product.

There are also other methods of decontamination out there, such as ozone. Yet according to George, those methods are not as efficient. "Ozone is a surface technology and won't penetrate the flower. Also, it's got an adverse effect on the flower itself. It changes the flower's appearance, turning it brown, and takes away the terpenes by deodorizing it, just like it does to rental cars that people have smoked in," George says. "When it comes to decontaminating cannabis, it is important to use a technology that penetrates the entire flower and inactivates only the viable contaminants fully, without affecting the quality of the product."

According to George, there is also noise in the industry from people who have never grown before about clean cannabis. "Although it is welcome, it is a dream for many growers. Microbes are everywhere, it is why you cook chicken and why lettuce and other crops get recalled for making people sick or worse. I have seen some visibly clean facilities with some high contamination rates. Many of my customers in fact come to us after they have harvested a few times, and now they have a problem that they didn't before." Clean growth is always the right way to go, but it does not guarantee that you will run into a problem later, George says. "Oftentimes, the grower gets blamed once microbial contamination finally sets in. It's really unfair that the growers are being targeted. Everyone wants a safe, clean product," George says.

For more information:
Rad Source Technologies