Food-Grade Lubes Grow in Importance


Big problems in food production and safety equal big opportunity for the supplier of food-grade lubricants, a Chemtura grease official said during a recent Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers webinar.

Chemtura Global Grease Manager Wayne Mackwood made the comment during his presentation, Grease and its Use in Food Processing.

Mackwood believes one of the bigger problems facing the food supply chain today is that a very large section of the worlds food is not processed using an approved lubricant. It is definitely a noted problem in the developing world, he said. Its not a pointed finger at them. Theyve clearly identified they could do a much better job using proper lubricants as opposed to the easiest one to use. But it also occurs in the developed world as well.

Food production and its safety is really critical to the worlds population and economy, Mackwood continued. We really cant tolerate, in any way, contamination that leads to sickness or supply disruptions … that can lead to product recalls, and even death can theoretically occur if not managed properly.

Major food retailers entering the developing world could drive change. For example, some major food retailers are attempting to enter the market in India for the first time.

The Indian market is known for a much smaller scale of food sales, Mackwood said. It doesnt have the same kind of massive infrastructure to support large food handlers or retailers. He cited an article in The Economist that noted that if Wal-Mart and other major food retailers gain a foothold in India, they could in the near future radically change that whole system of how food is handled, and how it goes from farmer to market within that system.

They will of course require a much different way to handle it, and I would imagine the lubricants themselves would change and be a much more visible part of that process, he added.

Lubricants are not immune to problems in the food supply process if the wrong ones are used, or if they are not maintained properly. There are certainly a number of cases that have been traced to the lubricant itself, either contaminating food or a batch of food to a point it had to be recalled, he said. Or in some cases its more of a lubrication issue where the bearings may not have been lubricated at all in a long time, and the bearing itself became a source of bacterial contamination to the food process.

Mackwood emphasized that contamination is a critical factor in food-grade lubricants so there need to be processes to control and reduce the contamination. The first one is selecting the best raw material possible, in terms of allergens – if possible, selecting a plant-based material versus an animal product might help or vice versa. Where that material comes from affects your ability to track it. Your confidence that the supplier is doing their job to keep contaminants low is really critical.

According to Mackwood, another way to avoid contamination or to assist in reducing contamination is to use dedicated food processing equipment, or going to the next step and completely dedicating the plant to food products.

Both of these are excellent, but they can be quite expensive, he noted. Its been shown that with proper cleanup procedures and the way products are handled within an existing grease facility, certainly these contaminants can be reduced to a very acceptable level using proper procedures when making food-grade products.

Inspection procedures are critical, he continued. You need to track and really watch the food lubricant process. In terms of allergens, he noted its important to educate workers on the types of food they eat at lunch that could potentially contaminate a food-grade lubricant product. Properly washing prior to entering the plant is also critical.

That factors into operator training, and not only in their hygiene plan, he said. But they also need to be owners of the process and understand how critical it is that all of these sources of contamination are kept to a minimum.

Related Topics