NSF to Cull Food-grade Lubes List


Hundreds of lubricants stand to be dropped in three months from the world’s most widely recognized registry of food-grade products as NSF International, the organization maintaining the list, phases out products authorized at least five years ago by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And some sources say the industry may be ready for an even bigger change — creation of a certification program that would audit manufacturing plants and test samples taken randomly from the market. The proposal will be discussed at an Oct. 21 meeting of the Steering Committee of the NSF Nonfood Compounds Registration Program.

NSF International, a nonprofit safety organization based in Ann Arbor, Mich., first published its White List of Nonfood Compounds in 2001, after the USDA dropped its program. Lubricants are categorized as either H1 (deemed safe for incidental food contact) or H2 (lubricants with no food contact).

Richard Pinchin, marketing manager of industrial lubricants for Shell International Petroleum Co., plans to give a 40-minute presentation at the Oct. 21 meeting pitching the concept of a certification program that would supplement the existing product registration process. His proposal calls for auditing organizations to inspect plants producing food-grade lubes to ensure the integrity of the manufacturing and packaging processes. It also calls for random samples of products to be drawn from the marketplace and tested against their registered formulas.

Pinchin, who is based in the United Kingdom,said he will suggest the industry needs such a program because registration alone does not guarantee that all products are, in practice, what they claim to be.

From time to time, we suspect that every production batch of some lubricant products may not be made according to the registered formula, he said. Its also possible to have accidental cross-contamination of products during blending or packaging. Certainly, our own investigations of food-grade lubes and blending components indicate that not every supplier complies with the very high quality standards we might expect for products destined for use in food production machinery.

NSF floated the concept of a certification program after it took over the USDA registry but failed to win support. Both NLGI and ELGI also discussed such a program, but many marketers balked at costs, which would have been several times higher than the simple registration program. Pinchin believes there may now be enough interest to make such certification feasible.

Its all about timing, he said. At that time, I think many oil suppliers were still getting used to the idea of converting from the free USDA program to the NSF program, which included fees. It was, perhaps, over-reaching at that time to introduce a new program that went beyond that. But now there is a growing realization that, although the NSFregistration programhas advantages over theobsolete USDA scheme, some suppliers like ourselves recognize that there arefood and beverage manufacturersinterestedto havean even higher degree of assurance of the quality of lubes they use on their production and packaginglines.

Since taking over the program, NSF has continued to list USDA-authorized products, while also adding new applicants which it registers. But the steering committee – representing suppliers, end-users and regulators – decided a year ago that NSF should drop products for which NSF had not received current documentation. Proponents of the change noted that the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which ran the program, actually stopped listing products in 1998.

The steering committeecalled for the change to take place Jan. 1, 2004. Program Manager Kenji Yano said it makes sense to stop listing products that NSF has not itself registered.

These are products for which we dont have any formulary information, he explained. He added that formulas have undergone significant change in recent years so that it makes sense to purge products that may no longer be in use or that may have changed.

The NSF list includes approximately 3,000 lubricants, Yano said, 75 percent of which have been registered by NSF. That leaves upwards of 800 that stand to be dropped in three months. Marketers may apply to keep their products on the list by submitting formulary and labeling information along with a fee of $110 to $150 per product to NSF. Yano said the organization is receiving rollover applications, but that it appears that many listings will be dropped.

Yano noted that the USDA, which inspects meat processing facilities in the United States, has stated it will allow facilities to continue using products that get dropped by NSF if they show a letter of guarantee indicating self-certification.

As marketers of USDA-registered products confront the question of whether to roll over their registrations, some in the industry are renewing calls to expand NSFs program to one that does more than simply check formulas against lists of acceptable materials.

Yano said he expects the Steering Committee to decide by the end of this year whether to form a certification program.

I know that there are many companies that are interested in audits and I imagine that many are not, he said. Its hard to say which way they will go.

The agenda for the Oct. 21 Steering Committee meeting, and other information about the NSF Nonfood Compounds program, can be found at www.nsf.org/usda.

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