Choosing the Right Lab
As the Account Manager of a licensed testing lab, I have the delightful opportunity to connect with potential clients and answer some common (and not so common) questions about compliance testing, labs, risk levels and Health Canada’s obsession with specifications. Choosing a lab is complicated, it is not a one size fits all situation; there are a lot of considerations. In fact, your chosen lab should be qualified or “vendor validated”, just like the inputs that go into the cultivation, processing, or manufacturing of your cannabis product. Your chosen lab vendor is an extension of your company and partnering with the right lab ensures the quality of your product.
You might be thinking, “how do I even begin to choose a lab”? First, consider your company’s needs, goals, priorities and risk level.
This will focus your attention on specific labs with key areas of expertise and may even create a short list of companies that you want to interview or in some cases audit. If you are making your decision about a lab based solely on price, turnaround time, or THC values you may not realize the risks you are taking until Health Canada comes-a-knockin’. The risk is using incorrect data that could result in a customer complaint, adverse reaction, recall, license suspension or a lawsuit.
I have created a Lab Assessment Scorecard that you can download and use to understand the capabilities of different labs and the services they provide in support of your team. A good lab gives you data, a great lab acts as an extension of your own team.
Let’s take a look at each section.
Section 1: Information – This is the general contact information and your key contact person within the organization.
Section 2: General Assessment – These are two key questions to determine if you can continue the assessment. If the testing lab does not have a Health Canada Analytical Testing license this a full stop and there is no need to continue the assessment as they will not be able to legally meet your cannabis testing requirements.
Section 3: Testing Capabilities – These questions provide the information for each test as to the capabilities of the lab and their ability to meet your needs for Health Canada’s regulations.
Section 4: Quality Assurance – This section dives deeper into the labs capabilities to conduct quality data for the end user. The focus is on the presence of a Quality Management System and how corrective and preventative actions are handled. Problems will arise, because human error exists, and you need to know how the lab handles them. When you are collecting this information from the labs, also inquire if there are additional costs associated with the corrective action and preventative action programs.
Section 5: Overall – Price is important, a lab that is too expensive will cut into your bottom line yet, operating a full compliance lab is costly. Labs must purchase or lease expensive, sensitive equipment requiring highly technical, never ending consumable costs, in depth processes, SOPs, specialized ventilation. Unfortunately, if a lab is under charging customers to gain market share, they may find themselves in financial trouble or cutting corners to save money. Is the lab running standard controls with each sample batch with significant standard curves? Long turnaround times can cause delays for product release, if turnaround time is extremely fast, consider what is being missed in review, equipment maintenance, SOPs, etc. Do you want the job done right or fast; it’s not a vending machine service. As a QAP once said to me “how much are you willing to risk is equal to how much you are willing to loose, your crop is money”.
Customer service is about your relationship with the lab; can you see yourself working with them especially if there is a problem? Are you able to communicate with the contact person quickly and effectively with important product release questions, testing discrepancies, will they be there for you during an audit? If you fail a test, will your lab help with root cause analysis, will the lab provide direction to fixing the cause of failure. Does the lab have additional services and information such as environmental monitoring (Air, water and surface testing), stability studies, a recommended quality assurance or cultivation consultant to help prevent problems? Is the lab invested in education and the advancement of science in the emergent cannabis industry? Is there opportunity for research projects and White Papers?
Section 6: Assessment – Add up your overall score and consider your interview notes. What you are looking at is a risk assessment for you companies products.
Doing your homework by qualifying a lab is critical to finding the right fit for your team. You may find more than one lab that satisfies your needs and you may want to validate a backup lab along with your primary lab to reduce risk management.
It will be the difference between rolling out the welcome mat when Health Canada comes-a-knockin’ or finding out that your singular consideration has led to deep problems that will halt production and bring your facility into question. Remember it is the cannabis producer that is 100% liable if incorrect data is used for the release of products.