What are Food Grade Lubricants?

Justin Christensen |

Download PDF Be careful what lubricants you're using around food.

Using the right product or tool is important when doing any job.  It can make the difference of the task being completed properly, safely and on schedule. In fact, this approach is so essential in some industries that regulations and standards have been established to ensure safety and success.

A good example is the use of lubricants in a food and beverage processing plant. They are necessary to keep tools and equipment running smoothly, however due to the nature of the environment they’re being used, they must be of ‘food grade’ quality.

By Definition

Food grade lubricants are those acceptable for use in meat, poultry and other food processing equipment, applications and plants. 

How They Function

Just as with any other lubricant, food grade varieties must be able to protect against wear and friction, inhibit corrosion and rust, remove heat, transfer energy, act as a sealant and be usable with rubber and other sealants.

However, as a food grade lubricant, they must also:

ü  Comply with food/health and safety regulations

ü  Be internationally approved

ü  Resist breakdown and reduced effectiveness when in contact with food products, certain chemicals, water, steam and bacteria

ü  Have the ability to dissolve sugars

ü  Be non-reactive

ü  Be taste and odor-free

Link To Food Safety

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 48 million Americans are affected by food-borne illness every year. While the number of incidents linked to lubricant contamination is not high, the consequences are quite severe nonetheless.

Tons of foods are wasted, productivity and profits are lost, and people can become ill. In one case, a can of baby food tested positive for a toxic substance after the mother complained it smelled like tar.  The contaminant was a mineral oil lubricant that likely came from a machine in the manufacturing process.

In an effort to focus on prevention rather than response, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act in January 2011. The Act gives the FDA greater authority to regulate food facilities, establish safe produce standards, oversee imported foods, and recall contaminated foods.

Lubricants can inadvertently become mixed with food through leaks or improper maintenance such as over applying a product. Based on their probability of contacting food, lubricants are divided into three main categories: H1, H2 and H3 as defined by National Sanitary Foundation (NSF) International.

Areas of Use

There are many product areas and applications in a food and beverage processing plant.  Subject to the US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 21, food grade lubricants may be safely utilized on machinery used for food in the following capacities:

—  Production

—  Manufacturing

—  Packing

—  Processing

—  Preparing

—  Treating

—  Packaging

—  Transporting

—  Holding

This includes equipment such as dryers, pumps, conveyors, ovens, mixers, hoses and tanks.  Within these categories, there are lubricants designed specifically for high temperatures and parts such as bearings, chains, fans, compressors and gearboxes.

Choosing the Right One

Selecting the right lubricant is vital to food safety and proper operation of machines. It means understanding the product information, their uses and meeting compliance, which can be a complex process.  Where do you begin?

Begin by choosing the right fuel distributor. Your fuel distributor should have lubricant engineers who are certified experts, who are value driven and customer focused. Ensure that your distributor can conduct a plant lubrication audit, an equipment performance analyses, or establish optimum maintenance practice programs, so that you know your business is in good hands.

What it translates to is peace of mind, more efficient operations and noticeable cost savings for your company. It’s an experience you can’t afford to miss.

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