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Better safe than sorry

17 March 2019

Can you guarantee that the inadvertent use of a non-food-grade lubricant in your plant will not cause a food safety incident leading to a product recall? 

Close inspection of many lubricant cabinets in the food and beverage industry will reveal that non-food grade cleans, sprays and lubricants are often stored alongside food-grade (NSF H1) lubricants. This is a risky practice as there is always the chance that someone will reach for the wrong lubricant at the wrong time. 

In 2000 these concerns were first addressed by the formation of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) which defined food safety requirements along the entire food supply chain. In 2011 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented the Food Safety Modernization Act, which shifted the focus from responding to food contamination problems to preventing them. Today, this is addressed through the ISO 21469 standard, which creates benchmarks for lubricant manufacturers that ultimately benefits end-users by taking a holistic ‘farm to fork’ approach to the manufacturing of food grade lubricants. This voluntary certification takes into account the lubricant and its ingredients, as well as the manufacturing process, handling, packaging and storage facilities where the lubricant is made. 

The European Hygienic Equipment Design Group (EHEDG) is a consortium of experts from the machine and component building industries, the EHEDG supports hygienic design in all areas of food production. Lubricants are considered machine components, which motivated an expert group of the EHEDG to create a Guideline – Document 23 – specifically for lubricants. Similar to ISO 21469, this EHEDG Guideline describes binding hygiene measures to be used for the manufacture of H1 lubricants. It also contains instructions for the changeover of production machinery or its components to H1 lubricants. 

EHEDG recommendations
While it is true that not all food and beverage manufacturers are required to use H1 lubricants the EHEDG lubricants subgroup exclusively recommends the use of H1 lubricants in food production. It says: “There are many cases where operators knowingly or unknowingly use H2 lubricants for production sites in which H1 lubricants are required – either for economic reasons or by simply misunderstanding the use of H1 in comparison to H2.’ Despite the classes’ similarity, and while it may seem acceptable to use H2 lubricants, EHEDG opposes this as in some cases they may even turn out to be toxic. The ISO 21469 standard also provides a detailed lubricant definition and requires the use of H1 lubricants for incidental contact not only with food products but also cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, tobacco and animal feed. 

Despite clear guidance many manufacturers still, inadvertently, allow industrial and incorrect lubricants to be used on their processing machinery. The best solution is to eliminate any potential problems is to first perform a careful inventory and then convert to an all NSF H1 registered lubricant facility

In the past there was a misconception that a food-grade lubricant could compromise performance, technical advances have proven that H1 lubricants can deliver the same if not better performance than conventional industrial gear oils and can be used safely on machinery components such as pumps, mixers, gearboxes, chain drives and conveyor belts. Even at higher temperatures or loads and in wash-down environments, the appropriate NSF H1 lubricant will still reduce friction and wear, protect against corrosion, dissipate heat and have a sealing effect. 

Klüber Lubrication, which has many NSF ISO21469 certified facilities, is one advocate for the use of only H1 lubricants within food and beverage facilities. It offers a service package consisting of training on lubricants and lubrication management including the creation of lubrication charts, optimising lubricants and other activities to support safe lubrication. 


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