A Cannabis Operator’s Guide to Foodservice Certifications

Slowly but surely, cannabis businesses are beginning to take root in the hospitality sector. Although they appear to be a match made in hash-heaven, the reality is a bit more complicated. Thankfully, for the “couch-locked” consumption lounge industry, state regulations have been evolving to allow cannabis cafes to become a reality in many regions where marijuana has been legalized.

That said, designated social spaces that also serve food and beverages require additional forethought. In our article, “7 Things to Consider Before Opening a Consumption Lounge,” we covered seven topics to consider before opening a consumption space. In this article, we’ll cover another important topic especially relevant to consumption spaces that integrate a cannabis kitchen or serve drinks — foodservice certifications.

Before You Build, Safety First

Before designing and building a marijuana lounge, you’ll need to make a plethora of decisions – choosing your equipment is one of them. While shopping for commercial equipment and supplies used to prep, cook, and serve your THC-infused offerings, we recommend becoming familiar with the most common health and safety certifications you’ll encounter.

These certifications have long been used to keep restaurant patrons safe and support engineering designs that facilitate the efficient breakdown and cleaning of their cooking equipment. Let’s discuss why this is important in the cannabis industry.

Why Foodservice Certifications Matter to Cannabis Manufacturers

As the legal cannabis industry continues to pick up momentum, responsible business practices that support public safety are more important than ever. Entrepreneurs looking to build and operate a cannabis hospitality business should familiarize themselves with the certifications associated with their health code. Here are four reasons why.

1. Public Trust and Reputation

Cannabis businesses, especially in the hospitality sector, are navigating a highly-regulated, complex landscape. Earning reputable food handling certifications such as ServSafe demonstrates a commitment to public health and food safety. This builds trust and fosters a positive brand image for your cannabis operation.

2. Clean Equipment Makes for Happy Health Inspectors

Installing and using certified, commercial equipment helps businesses avoid fines or even temporary closure due to not adhering to local health codes. For example, inspectors know that hospitality businesses should be using sinks that are NSF-certified (more on that later). Equipment certifications provide peace of mind, assuring inspectors that food safety is a top priority at your establishment.

3. Boosting Your Cannabis Kitchen’s Efficiency

Health and safety certifications help ensure equipment is engineered for easy cleaning and sanitation, saving staff time and effort. This results in smoother operations, reduced prep time, and happier (and more productive) budtenders and servers. Certified tools and supplies also ensure that your equipment is up-to-date with the latest safety standards.

4. Setting the Gold Standard

As regulations evolve, consumption lounges that are already using certified equipment are ahead of the curve. Demonstrating a proactive commitment to food safety will impress your health inspectors and pave the way for the marijuana hospitality industry to grow and broaden public and political acceptance.

The importance of health and safety certifications extends beyond legal compliance. It represents a forward-thinking approach to developing processes and procedures that promote safely produced, cannabis-infused cuisine. Adhering to local health codes is not just a prerequisite – it’s required. It’s also a responsible recipe for the success of your consumption lounge.

Remember:

  • Certifications vary by state and region. Research local requirements.
  • Seek accredited training programs and reputable certification entities.
  • Continuous education is key — stay updated on health codes, regulations, and best practices.

By prioritizing foodservice and health certifications as you choose your hospitality equipment, cannabis lounges and kitchens can create a haven where responsible consumption and social experiences blend seamlessly.

Cannabis Hospitality: Common Foodservice Certifications

We’ve covered why foodservice certifications are important for consumption lounges above. Next, let’s review some of the most common health and safety certifications. Our basic guide includes the following certifications:

ANSI (American National Standards Institute)

While not a direct certification, equipment that complies with ANSI standards is often recognized by other certification bodies and regulatory agencies. For over 100 years, the ANSI certification has served as a mark of conformity to established standards, promoting quality, safety, and reliability across diverse sectors in the United States.

Click here to learn more about the American National Standards Institute’s mission and goals.

CSA (Canadian Standards Association)

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) certification is a mark of product safety and performance compliance that signifies adherence to Canadian standards and regulations. While primarily used in Canada, CSA certification is often accepted in the United States as well. Feel free to check out their website to read more about the CSA group’s certification services.

Manufacturers seeking CSA certification submit their products for thorough testing and assessment based on applicable Canadian standards. These standards cover a wide range of criteria, including electrical safety, environmental impact, mechanical performance, and other relevant factors depending on the type of product.

Energy Star

Energy Star certification is a voluntary program established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promote energy efficiency and environmental sustainability in products and buildings. The program aims to identify and promote energy-efficient products that meet strict criteria set by the EPA. Since the early 1990s, the Energy Star program has saved five trillion kilowatt-hours of energy and has prevented billions of metric tons of greenhouse gasses from exacerbating global warming.

Products that carry the Energy Star label are recognized for their ability to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to energy savings. Consumers can easily identify Energy Star-certified products by the distinctive blue label.

The cannabis industry continues to innovate its operations from seed to sale. Striving to use equipment that is designed to use electricity efficiently can go a long way in setting an example for other businesses while establishing sustainable business operations that support a brand the community can rally behind.

ETL (Electrical Testing Laboratories)

The ETL Listed Mark is a safety certification mark issued by Intertek, a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL). It indicates that a product has been rigorously tested and found to comply with relevant North American safety standards. The mark can also help to give consumers confidence that a product is safe.

The ETL mark indicates that the equipment has met safety standards for electrical hazards, as well as sanitation and food contact requirements. This makes ETL certification a valuable choice for equipment that comes into direct contact with food, such as cutting boards and beverage dispensers.

There are several different ETL Listed Marks; it’s important to research and talk to local inspectors to know which are important for the equipment you’ll be purchasing for your consumption lounge and cannabis operation.

HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points)

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certification is a systematic preventive approach to food safety that is recognized internationally. Achieving HACCP certification offers several benefits for the cannabis industry, especially for businesses involved with infused food production, processing, and handling.

Obtaining HACCP certification is a strategic investment for cannabis hospitality operations, as it not only ensures compliance with food safety regulations but also contributes to improved product quality, market access, and consumer trust.

NSF (National Sanitation Foundation)

Currently, NSF International doesn’t offer any specific certification programs directly for cannabis consumption lounges. However, their involvement in the cannabis industry will impact lounges in many ways in a few years. From decarb ovens to manufacturing equipment to edible storage and dispensary refrigeration, the NSF mark is a trusted symbol of quality and compliance.

NSF participates in the development of industry standards for various sectors, including food safety and public health. While not specific to cannabis hospitality operations, these standards will ultimately influence regulations and best practices applied to the cannabis industry. For example, NSF’s work on air filtration standards could inform guidelines for ventilation systems in consumption lounges.

If you’d like to learn more about the NSF certification, we found a great article for you to check out by clicking here. There are quite a few NSF/ANSI certifications. Here are a few, for example:

  • NSF/ANSI 4: Commercial Cooking Equipment
  • NSF/ANSI 7: Commercial Refrigerators and Freezers
  • NSF/ANSI 12: Automatic Ice-Making Equipment
  • NSF/ANSI 51: Food Equipment Materials

Although not all NSF/ANSI certifications will impact the cannabis hospitality industry, many of them will become the standard—especially for consumption lounges.

ServSafe (Food Handler Training)

ServSafe certifications are currently essential in foodservice and will one day impact cannabis hospitality businesses. They play a vital role in ensuring the safety and well-being of both customers and employees. Developed and administered by the National Restaurant Association, ServSafe certifications are recognized across the United States and internationally.

ServSafe certifications equip cannabis kitchen and manufacturing employees with a comprehensive understanding of foodgrade product safety principles, including proper handling, storage, preparation, and serving of infused meals and beverages. This knowledge is crucial in preventing foodborne illnesses and protecting a cannabis hospitality business’ brand and reputation.

UL (Underwriters Laboratories)

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is a global independent safety science company that provides testing, inspection, certification, and auditing services for a wide range of products and systems. Their certifications and marks (such as the UL mark) indicate that a piece of equipment or product has met specific safety and performance standards established by UL.

These certifications are widely recognized and trusted around the world, assuring consumers and businesses that the products they purchase meet stringent safety and quality criteria. When cannabis cafes include UL-certified equipment in the build of their establishment, it relays to inspectors a sense of responsibility to its staff, customers, and community.

Why Certifications Matter:

Foodservice certifications are not just bureaucratic hurdles; they play a vital role in ensuring the safety and health of your patrons. To summarize, by choosing equipment that meets recognized standards, you can:

  • Reduce the risk of foodborne illness: Certified equipment is designed and manufactured to minimize the risk of contamination and cross-contamination.
  • Prevent fires and electrical hazards: Certifications like UL and CSA ensure that equipment meets safety standards for electrical components and heat generation.
  • Maintain compliance with regulations: Many local and state health codes require the use of certified equipment in food service establishments.
  • Gain the trust of local inspectors: Displaying recognized certifications on your equipment can demonstrate your commitment to food safety and quality. As a bonus, this gives customers peace of mind.

Equipment Certification Pro-Tips

With so many certifications to consider, it can be tough to know which ones are most important for your specific needs. Here are a few tips:

  • Start with the basics: NSF and UL certifications are essential for most food service equipment.
  • Consider your equipment type: Some certifications are specific to certain types of equipment, such as NSF/ANSI 18 for dishwashers.
  • Check local regulations: Some regions may have additional certification requirements.
  • Consult with a qualified professional: If you’re unsure which certifications are right for your needs, talk to a food service equipment supplier or consultant.

By understanding and adhering to food service certifications from the beginning, you create a safe and healthy environment for your customers and employees. This helps ensure your business operates in compliance with regulations. Don’t hesitate to inquire about health and safety certifications when purchasing equipment — it’s an investment in your business’s success and reputation.

Questions? We’re Here to Help

Remember, this article is just a starting point. There are many other food service certifications out there, and specific requirements can vary depending on your location and type of establishment. By understanding the basics, you can make informed choices about the equipment you purchase and help contribute to the safety of your food service operation.

Whether you’re a cannabis kitchen, consumption lounge, cultivator, or manufacturer — feel free to reach out to our team. We’re here to help educate and navigate the ever-changing terrain of industry regulations as you design, build, and scale your cannabis business.

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