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What can have a bearing on food safety?

01 July 2022

In hygienic equipment design, details matter, says David Oliver, explaining how bearing units can either aid or harm proactive food safety. 

High-profile recalls sparked by salmonella and listeria infections have underlined the importance of a proactive approach to safety in the food and beverage sector. Facing tighter rules, increasing scrutiny by regulators and the risk of a public backlash when things go wrong, companies are trying to design safety into every step of the production process. Those efforts are always a balancing act. 

With labour, food and energy costs at record levels, the pressure to maximise productivity has never been greater. Food producers need equipment that is efficient, reliable, and flexible as well as safe.

While they are often small components, the bearings specified in food processing equipment can have an outsized impact on both productivity and safety. Efficient production requires the reliable, precise, and low-friction motion that only a high-quality and properly lubricated bearing can provide. But food and beverage production, with its often abrasive ingredients,  corrosive liquids, and the need for regular washdowns, is a very difficult environment for bearings.

Keeping machines both clean and healthy has always been a battle. Bearings require regular re-lubrication to replace the grease that washdowns remove. And cleaning up after each cycle of lubrications requires expenditure in labour, time, and materials that companies would rather avoid. 

SKF has been involved in the food industry for decades, working closely with equipment manufacturers and end users to develop solutions that meet the evolving needs of this industry sector.

Food Line Ball Bearing Units – Blue Range, for example, use materials which can resist corrosion, and seal technology that can retain lubricant safely within the bearing during washdowns. The Food Line Blue Range composite housings are manufactured with no crevices or pockets to enue there is nowhere for debris or bacteria to accumulate.

End-to-end hygiene
One key trend that we have observed recently across the industry is the desire to adopt food safe principles across every part of a food production facility. Users know that contamination can occur anywhere, and that includes in pre- and post-processing in addition to core production activities. 

In response to this emerging user requirement, SKF Food Line technologies has been applied to a new range of deep groove ball bearings designed for non-corrosive production environments such as sorting, handling, and packaging machinery. 

On the outside, the new ball bearings for non-corrosive environments use high-efficiency contact seal, which excludes water and contaminants while retaining lubricant. These seals are manufactured from an EC and FDA approved nitrile rubber in a blue colour that makes it easy to identify fragments if they enter the food stream. 

Inside, the bearings are lubricated with high-performance food-grade grease. Registered as a category H1 product, thee grease is designed to be safe in the event of incidental contact with food. It is allergen-free and certified to meet Halal and Kosher standards. 

The ball bearings also aim to address productivity and safety challenges. Under most conditions, the factory-filled grease is sufficient to lubricate the bearing for its full rating life. That means no costly and time-consuming relubrication operations, and no need to dispose of old lubricant or grease-contaminated cleaning equipment. 

David Oliver is UK platform manager, Food and Beverage at SKF.

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