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Effective and risk-free lubrication

14 August 2016

It may cost more per kilo, but today’s food grade lubricants will help keep maintenance to a mimimum and increase equipment life, while offering the assurance that products will not have to be recalled due to lubricant contamination. 

Lubrication of process equipment has traditionally posed a problem within the food sector as it is, potentially, a source of contamination for foodstuffs. Without effective lubrication most machinery will break down over a period of time. This has left engineers with a headache as there is pressure to run equipment to its maximum capacity and service life to ensure maximum productivity. However, they also need to avoid any potential contamination incidents.

The solution to this dilemma was found in the development of food-grade lubricants which, in addition to being able to perform the same functions as standard lubricants, need to be able to resist degradation from food products, chemicals and water/steam. They also need to must exhibit a neutral behaviour toward plastics and elastomers, and have the ability to dissolve sugars and must also comply with food and health and safety regulations, must be physiologically inert, tasteless, odourless and internationally approved.

For many years it was believed that lubricants for the food industry did not match the performance levels of standard lubricants. More recently, however, there have been significant developments in food grade lubricant technology in recent years, with fully synthetic base oils and high performance additive packages now being used to ensure that the performance of food grade lubricants at least match, and in many cases better, the performance of non-food grade lubricants.

“Although generally more expensive per kilo, todays food grade lubricants can offer a wider operating temperature range and increased product life which helps to increase the intervals between relubrication and reduce lubricant consumption,” said Joanne Ferguson, marketing manager at ROCOL. Above all food processors will want to avoid the need for product recalls. Recalling a product on safety grounds is a costly exercise in the short term, but the longer term financial repercussions that result from reduced customer perception of the brand can be devastating. It is, therefore, vital that safety risks are identified and addressed throughout the production line. This should include close scrutiny of equipment lubrication formulation and application techniques.

“While performance of the fully synthetic modern day food grade lubricants is no longer an issue, plant hygiene needs to be addressed so that full audit compliance in accordance with HACCP principles is met,” explained Roger Locke, business development manager for FUCHS.
There is still no detailed global or european standard for food grade lubricants, so all the major lubricant manufacturers rely on the National Sanitary Foundation International (NSF) – a public health and safety organisation – for their food grade lubricant registrations. “NSH H1 is the most globally recognised classification for food grade lubricants where there is a possibility of incidental contact,” explained Locke.

Being NSF H1 registered means that the product is tested by the (NSF) to ensure it complies with the latest safety standards. Once checked and certified, the lubricant is deemed safe for use in factories producing food, drink, cosmetics and animal feeds, and is guaranteed to be manufactured only from FDA listed ingredients which are free from animal derived materials, nut oils, soya, dairy and genetically modified (GM) ingredients. The product also needs to be labelled as such.

More recently ISO 21469 was introduced. Certification to this standard requires a full risk assessment for the entire lubricant manufacturing plant and a physical yearly audit, which includes formulation review, process review and sample taking and testing. “ISO 21469 now represents today’s highest standard for food safety, specifically dedicated to the manufacturing and handling of food grade lubricants,” said Locke. The standard looks at the lubricant itself and how it is made. Its goal is to ensure that the product is manufactured in accordance with the standards but that it is also delivered intact and free from outside contamination.

So, selecting a food grade lubricant that utilises a fully synthetic base oil and that has been produced in an ISO 21469 certified manufacturing plant and which carries NSF H1 registration – will ensure that the food manufacturer has the best of both worlds in terms of lubricant performance, associated food safety, and audit compliance.

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