“We’ve tested about 25 different brands of gloves in the US in the last two to three years, finding everything from feces, mold, skin cells, and e-coli,” says Steve Ardagh, CEO of Eagle Protect, a company that supplies personal protective equipment, and experts in cross-contamination. “People assume gloves are clean, and they’re not.”
One Washington-based farm learned that the hard way.
In summer 2019, family-owned cannabis retailer Freya Farm recalled their product because O-Phenylphenol (OPP), a chemical known to cause cancer, was found in the food-safe gloves they were using to handle their crop. The chemicals in the gloves unsafely transmitted onto the flower, creating potentially dangerous situations if the cannabis were to be consumed.
In a the statement announcing the recall, Freya Farms said:
“Nothing ruins your day like testing your product, confident it will be clean, only to find it contaminated with some crazy, toxic chemical. The gloves were the last thing we tested, we just never imagined something sold as food safe could transfer such nastiness. The discovery was just the beginning… recalls are costly in more ways than one.”
By the time Freya Farm became aware of the issue, the recall consisted of only a handful of jars of cannabis that had yet to be sold. They couldn’t keep track of the contaminated flower because the batch they found OPP on sold quickly.
Freya Farm investigated the issue. They tested their product and the gloves they used only to find a very small amount of OPP in both. The farm isn’t fully sure as to how much of their cannabis had been affected by this.
But when Washington state’s Liquor and Cannabis Control Board (LCB) tested Freya Farms’ cannabis in July 2019, even more OPP appeared. However, the farm’s owners believe the additional contaminant came from the state’s handling of their cannabis.
Erik Caldwell, an owner of Freya Farm, says that, “The amount of OPP we found in the gloves we were using still doesn’t add up to the scores they had posted. This tells me they had it all over their gloves contaminating our product further.”
Caldwell, who is also one of Freya Farm’s garden operators, used a private tester to test the cannabis that was under review. They found that the OPP in their cannabis didn’t justify a major fine until it was passed to the LCB testing site.
Changing State Law
The LCB fined Freya Farm. Some pesticide-driven fines, like the one Freya was given, can cost upwards of $200,000 dollars, according to a fine given to a Massachusetts-based retailer.
Caldwell says situations like these can cause many businesses to shut down. If they could afford proper funding, the investigation could have lasted for more than a year. But they pushed the case as far as they could afford to.
As an action of this case, the law changed. Previously, the law stated that if a chemical compound was found in cannabis for whatever reason, the company would be fined. Now, the company would only be fined if it’s proven that they applied the compound themselves.
Due to the law change, the LCB dropped its fine. But Freya Farm was subject to 12 months of consistent cannabis testing, says Caldwell. “We were subject to how the law was written at the time, even though this was the case to change the law. At least this would be helpful for the future and anyone else affected by this.”
Gloves by Eagle Protect
Freya Farm has started purchasing their gloves from the third-party company, Eagle Protect. Their gloves are rigorously tested to ensure they are clean and safe for the workplace.
Eagle Protect’s safety measures make sure the gloves they supply are actually food-safe. They reduce the risk of chemical and germ transmission by putting their gloves through their Fingerprint Glove Analysis. It checks for safe ingredients, and cross-contamination amongst other protocols to ensure their product’s safety.
Eagle Protect’s CEO, Steve Ardagh, stresses the importance of the tools used to certify clean products, especially if they go into our bodies.
“We just want people to ask the question: what’s touching my food, cannabis, patient?” he states.
Gloves that are made for food-handling only require initial FDA approval. In fact, FDA Title 21 CFR Part 177 explains that gloves can be made with, “substances generally recognized as safe for use in food or food packaging.”
As such, many gloves companies get initial FDA approval, but are usually never regulated after that.
Moreover, the Cannabis Industry Journal notes how unsafe the glove making process is, especially since they are made in factories outside of the U.S.:
“100% of glove factories supplying the United States are based in Southeast Asia. These factories are generally self-regulated, with FDA compliance required for a rough outline of the ingredients of the gloves rather than the final product. Few controls are required for glove manufacturing relating to the reliability of raw materials, manufacturing processes and factory compliance or conditions.”
Freya Farms is not making the same mistake twice. The gloves used at both the farm and state testing facilities had chemicals unsafe for people to consume. So the contamination was always going to happen because of the sometimes unregulated production of FDA-approved gloves.
The Future of ‘Food-Safe’
If these gloves are not food-safe, then they aren’t cannabis-safe, and no one wants to put toxins into their body. But, cross-contamination from gloves is not just a concern for cannabis consumers. It’s an issue for all consumers and industries, especially in the era of COVID-19, which has caused a spike in demand for such products.
For people who use gloves — whether they’re trimming cannabis or working in food processing facilities — there is no telling what could be on them. Because of the way they are processed in factories and tested by the FDA, there is a lot of room for harmful material to build up. Their purpose may become, well, ironic.
Cannabis is one of the most regulated industries in states that have legalized it. Because of this, any extra chemicals or germs unapproved by cannabis laws can harm businesses and the health of those using it. Those harmful chemicals shouldn’t come from the very equipment that’s meant to keep it safe. And they certainly shouldn’t come from the very departments that certify a product’s safety.