HomeCannabis Industry InterviewsInnovating Cannabis Safety: A Conversation with VIST Labs’ Jim Sanfilippo

Innovating Cannabis Safety: A Conversation with VIST Labs’ Jim Sanfilippo

Join us for an in-depth interview with Jim Sanfilippo as he discusses VIST Labs’ cutting-edge solutions for cannabis packaging and decontamination, the importance of regulatory compliance, and his vision for the future of the cannabis industry.

Jim Sanfilippo has extensive entrepreneurial, managerial, and growth-oriented expertise. This is further enriched by over 35 years of invaluable pasteurization and packaging proficiency, with a legacy including pasteurization insights from JBSS Inc., a prominent billion-dollar food company, as well as packaging expertise as CEO of Clear Lam Packaging, a multimillion-dollar enterprise.

Under his leadership, VIST has developed proprietary technology designed to naturally clean cannabis and aseptically package cannabis products to ensure the preservation of cannabis quality.

Mr. Sanfilippo is credited with developing more than 100 patents representing major advances in flexible and forming film packaging materials for fresh and processed foods, healthcare products, and other packaged goods.

We were given this wonderful opportunity to interview Jim. Read on below to learn more about Jim, VIST, cannabis testing standards, and their proprietary Cryopasteurization technology.

Ganjly: Mr. Sanfilippo, you have over 35 years of experience in pasteurization and packaging. Can you briefly describe how your background has prepared you for your role at VIST Labs?

Jim Sanfilippo: My background spans over three decades in the food, pharmaceutical, and medical industries, with a particular focus on modified atmosphere packaging and extending product shelf life, ensuring stability. As a long-time member of the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, I have honed expertise in packaging solutions for oxygen-sensitive products like infant formula, medications, snack foods, meat, cheese, coffee, and fresh produce. This experience has equipped me with the knowledge necessary to address similar challenges in the cannabis industry, particularly regarding consumer safety, product stability, and extended shelf life. At VIST Labs, we are leveraging this deep expertise to ensure cannabis products are microbially safe when distributed to consumers.

Ganjly: What motivated you to transition from traditional food and healthcare packaging to the cannabis industry, and what unique challenges have you encountered?

Jim Sanfilippo: The cannabis industry faces similar challenges to those I have addressed in the food, pharmaceutical, and medical industries, particularly concerning microbial safety, product stability, and shelf life. Cannabis products, much like nuts and snack foods, are highly sensitive to oxygen and can degrade rapidly. This degradation affects not only the potency of active compounds like THC and CBD but also the flavor and safety of the product.

Recognizing these parallels, we saw a clear need for improved packaging solutions that could extend shelf life and ensure product safety through the distribution chain. Moreover, as we delved deeper into the cannabis industry, we became increasingly aware of the high levels of contamination present in many products and the alarming health risks this posed to consumers.

This recognition drove us to develop packaging solutions that not only address stability and shelf life but also significantly reduce the risk of contamination. Implementing a combination of pasteurization and aseptic-modified atmosphere packaging, we are able to help cultivators deliver safe cannabis products that are free from harmful contaminants and safe for consumer use.

Ganjly: Can you explain the proprietary technology that VIST has developed for naturally cleaning and aseptically packaging cannabis products?

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Jim Sanfilippo: CryoPasteurization®: CryoPasteurization is a natural and effective decontamination process that ensures the purity and safety of cannabis. This pharmaceutical-grade protocol kills microbial contaminants and meets EU Pharmacopeia Standards of below a 20 CFU/g threshold while preserving the integrity of the plant’s terpenes and cannabinoids, without using irradiation or harmful chemicals.

Our system is among the fastest on the market, utilizing cutting-edge technology to ensure maximum efficiency and safety. It combines medical-grade water and cryogenic nitrogen through a patented process to create a cryogenic vapor and undergoes a gentle pasteurization process called CryoPasteurization. This process effectively kills and inactivates all pathogenic organisms, aspergillus, yeast, mold, and aerobic bacteria. This purification process eliminates any off-flavors caused by mold and bacteria and filters out contaminants, resulting in a product that is purified to medical-grade standards.

AMAPS® (Aseptic Modified Atmosphere Packaging Systems): AMAPS is a proprietary aseptic high-barrier packaging solution that ensures the protection of cannabis for prolonged shelf life and enhanced quality. This low-oxygen terminal atmosphere method preserves and protects cannabis while extending freshness, retaining terpene and cannabinoid levels, maintaining moisture content, and enhancing overall quality. It differs from conventional MAP Packaging by providing a more robust and reliable barrier against environmental factors and an optimized terminal atmosphere which provides absolute stability to the product.

This approach leverages our extensive experience in medical and pharmaceutical products, ensuring that we maintain the highest standards of quality, safety, and truth in labeling. Additionally, AMAPS can be offered in two formats to cater to different needs:

Bulk Formats:

  • High Barrier bag and box in 1lb, 5lbs, 10lbs, and 20lbs options
  • Available for Pallets or Shelf Storage

Consumer Retail Formats:

  • Pre Rolls
  • Pouches
  • Portion Control Cups

By providing these versatile packaging options, we are able to meet the diverse demands of the cannabis market, ensuring both bulk distributors and individual consumers receive products that are safe, fresh, and of the highest quality.

Ganjly: You are credited with developing over 100 patents in flexible and forming film packaging materials and equipment. How has this innovation been applied to cannabis packaging at VIST?

Jim Sanfilippo: I have personally secured 110 patents over the past 30 years, primarily in packaging technologies, modified atmosphere technologies, barrier film structures, and container design. Our experience with Aseptic Modified Atmosphere packaging using ultra-high barrier structures, which protect against oxygen, aroma, and moisture, is directly applicable to cannabis packaging. By leveraging our expertise in coextrusions and film structures, we ensure seal integrity and the right atmosphere for cannabis products, extending their stability and shelf life to well over a year.

Ganjly: How do the testing standards for cannabis differ between the US and Europe, particularly in terms of consumer protection and quality assurance?

Jim Sanfilippo: In Europe, cannabis regulation is governed by European Pharmacopoeia (EP 5.1.4) standards, which mandate stringent limits on mold and aerobic bacteria levels—allowing only 20 colony-forming units per gram (CFU/g) of mold and 200 CFU/g of aerobic bacteria on cannabis. This reflects a commitment to thorough sterilization and consumer protection.

In contrast, the United States lacks a uniform safety standard. Some states require less than 1,000 CFU/g, others have a threshold of 10,000 CFU/g, and unfortunately, many states do not have any standards or regulations at all. This discrepancy raises concerns about potential health risks associated with unclean cannabis products.

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To safeguard public health and maintain the integrity of the cannabis industry, we must prioritize the establishment of consistent safety standards. Ensuring cleanliness and adherence to strict regulatory guidelines is crucial for the industry’s future, especially for an industry with primarily inhaled products.

Ganjly: What potential changes do you foresee in the US cannabis industry if federal rescheduling occurs, especially regarding testing standards and product quality?

Jim Sanfilippo: Federal rescheduling would likely bring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into regulatory roles, significantly enhancing product safety and truth in labeling. Assertions about microbial safety, THC levels, and cannabinoid content would need to be verifiable throughout the product’s shelf life. This oversight would eliminate false information and ensure safer cannabis products for consumers.

Currently, there are many misleading labels in the marketplace regarding microbial safety, THC levels, and cannabinoid content. Under FTC guidelines, these details would need to be accurate at the end of the product’s shelf life. Cannabis products that remain on store shelves for 90 to 120 days or more often have inaccurate labels due to degradation over time. To protect consumer safety and ensure truth in label claims, according to FTC guidelines, such products would need to be removed from shelves if their potency claims are no longer true and accurate.

For example, a product might state it contains 20% THC at the time of packaging, but the THC content percentage could drop significantly by the time it reaches consumers on store shelves. This misleads consumers and affects their experience and the product’s therapeutic efficacy. Federal oversight would guarantee that label information is accurate throughout the product’s shelf life, providing reliable information and enhancing consumer trust in the industry.

Ganjly: What are the primary regulatory challenges you face operating in both the US and European markets, and how does VIST navigate these complexities?

Jim Sanfilippo: Operating in both the US and European markets presents significant regulatory challenges, primarily due to the diverse and evolving legal landscapes. In the US, the patchwork of state regulations complicates consistency in manufacturing and distribution standards, impacting everything from product formulation to packaging requirements. In contrast, European markets adhere to stringent pharmaceutical standards, necessitating meticulous adherence to EU Pharmacopoeia 5.1.4 standards for product safety and quality.

Navigating these complexities requires VIST to maintain robust compliance frameworks tailored to each market’s unique regulatory demands. This involves rigorous adherence to local laws, continuous monitoring of regulatory updates, and proactive engagement with regulatory bodies to ensure our technologies meet or exceed industry standards.

As for the industry in general, the lack of federal banking access in the US is a major hurdle, limiting access to capital for investment and growth. Additionally, the 280E tax issue restricts financial flexibility, further complicating industry expansion. Access to debt capital and equity capital for players in the industry would significantly enhance investment and growth potential.

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Ganjly: In your opinion, what steps should the US take to improve standardization and consumer protection in the cannabis industry?

Jim Sanfilippo: As the cannabis industry moves towards federal legalization, this would enable the FDA and FTC to regulate the industry, likely imposing standards similar to those in the food and pharmaceutical sectors. This would include pasteurization standards or 6 log kill steps to reduce microbial contamination and ensure label claims are accurate throughout the product’s shelf life.

Such measures would significantly enhance consumer protection and product safety.  In the food industry, products must accurately reflect their nutritional content, ingredients, and expiration dates. Similarly, the pharmaceutical industry mandates that drug labels provide precise information about dosage, active ingredients, and potential side effects. Applying these stringent standards to the cannabis industry would ensure that consumers receive products that meet the claims made on their labels, fostering trust and reliability within the market.

Ganjly: How can technological advancements, like those developed by VIST, contribute to the standardization and safety of cannabis products across different markets?

Jim Sanfilippo: Technological advancements like Cryopasteurization and AMAPS contribute significantly to the standardization and safety of cannabis products by providing consistent and reliable methods for decontamination and preservation. These technologies set new benchmarks for the industry, ensuring that products not only meet but exceed regulatory standards, like EU Pharmacopoeia 5.1.4 compliance standards.

By adopting such advanced solutions, the cannabis industry can achieve uniformity in safety across different markets, fostering consumer trust and elevating industry standards globally. Moreover, the implementation of these technologies supports truth in label claims, a critical aspect of consumer protection. Just as the food and pharmaceutical industries require accurate labeling throughout a product’s shelf life, the cannabis industry must also ensure that its products meet the advertised claims from production to consumption.

Ganjly: What innovations in packaging and decontamination do you anticipate will shape the future of the cannabis industry, and how is VIST positioning itself to lead in these developments?

Jim Sanfilippo: The future of cannabis packaging will be shaped by the need for a minimum one-year stability and shelf life, achievable through effective modified atmosphere systems and rigorous decontamination processes. VIST is at the forefront of this evolution with our advanced pasteurization and packaging technologies, ensuring product safety and integrity from production to consumption. Implementing a six-log kill step, which is standard in food and pharmaceutical industries, will be essential for eliminating pathogens and protecting consumers.

VIST is positioning itself as a leader in these developments by continually innovating and improving our technologies to meet the evolving needs of the cannabis industry. Our commitment to rigorous testing, compliance with international standards, and ongoing research and development ensures that we remain at the forefront of cannabis packaging and decontamination. By leading with advanced solutions like Cryopasteurization and AMAPS, we are setting the standard for safety, quality, and consumer trust in the cannabis industry.

Thank you, Jim, for taking the time to do the interview! We appreciate it. To know more about Jim, head on over to VIST Labs.

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