James Ashkar, owner of At Home Baked, checks products at Advanced Medical Alternatives. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

Surprise health inspections for Denver makers of pot edibles

Henderson said the city lacks the data to compare compliance in the edible marijuana businesses to, say, restaurants.

Marisa Bunning, associate professor and extension specialist in food science and human nutrition at Colorado State University, said time and temperature abuses have long been shown to make food unsafe.

“The system we have in place — with health departments maintaining the standards that have been set and citing establishments that don’t follow those — that is a very good system that prevents illness,” Bunning said. “This is a new industry, so it’s probably going to take some time to learn the safe handling practices that are necessary.”

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Dixie Elixirs and Edibles of Denver, Colorado’s highest-profile infused-products company, was cited in March for keeping bottles of oils at room temperature that inspectors said should be refrigerated.

The inspector spoke with Dixie about testing the products for pH and water activity, which can determine whether food products kept at room temperature can support the rapid growth of microorganisms, an inspection report said.

Dixie Elixirs spokesman Joe Hodas said the company responded immediately, hiring a private lab to test its products.

“This came up quickly and took everyone by surprise,” Hodas said of the city food oversight.

“Ultimately, we want to have a partnership with the regulators and various departments involved so we can work together to achieve the best end goal, which is everybody’s safety.”

City officials say they were satisfied with the test results on Dixie infused drinks but asked for more documentation on its tinctures.

In a letter to dispensaries, the company said its tinctures should be refrigerated until further notice.

Refrigeration order
Another edibles manufacturer, Marqaha, was ordered to inform dispensaries to refrigerate its infused juices, teas, tinctures and sprays.

The city says the company has not provided any test results showing the drinks are safe to store at room temperature.

The Department of Revenue has moved to revoke the license of Marqaha, which has been twice raided by federal agents in an ongoing investigation involving charges of international money laundering.

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Other violations found by city food inspectors were more straightforward.

Last month, inspectors found edibles manufacturer Canna Elixirs lacking paper towels, sanitizer or proper sinks.

The operator couldn’t explain correct procedures for cleaning and sanitizing.

After city officials deemed products made there “unwholesome,” the operator put 73 caramels and the contents of 11 bottles of infused soda into a bucket, doused it with bleach and dirt and threw it out.

Canna Elixirs sent recall notices to 11 dispensaries and stores, the city said.

Eric Underwood, Canna Elixirs’ owner and sole employee, said in an interview the city should give businesses “a little leeway” as it takes new enforcement steps.

However, he added: “My fault, ultimately.”

Some dispensaries were cited for keeping refrigerated edibles in coolers that weren’t cold enough — in some cases by 20 degrees.

At Patients Choice dispensary on Morrison Road, inspectors found expired coconut oil and mold on infused butter.

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Other local and regional health agencies are following Denver’s lead with food safety inspections of edibles, or are considering it.

Pueblo County last month began requiring edibles businesses seeking a new or renewed license to be inspected by the Pueblo City-County Health Department, a spokeswoman said.

“There has been a lot of toe dips in the water, a lot of local communities through their county commissions or city government placing this on their agendas for discussion,” said Jeff Lawrence, director of the state Department of Public Health and Environment’s Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability.

When health officials investigate food-borne disease outbreaks, they seek to interview victims to try to identify the source of the problem.

Lawrence said the forms either have been or soon will be revised to include a question about consumption of edibles.

Eric Gorski: 303-954-1971, egorski@denverpost.com or twitter.com/egorski

Online extras

Hyperlinks in the story include copies of city inspection reports that found critical violations at edibles manufacturers and businesses that sell them, a memo from the city about its “special concerns” about marijuana-infused foods, a letter to dispensaries from Dixie Elixirs and Edibles, and other documents related to this story.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com