Market Topics

Dishing Up Food-grade Lubes


The food and beverage industry is in one of its most challenging periods. Headlines of food contamination and massive recalls have only upped the ante on an already highly regulated industry. Food and beverage manufacturers are on a constant vigil to control contamination and preserve food safety.

At the same time, food processors are running their equipment on a 24/7 basis, demanding higher throughputs. They are also striving to ensure that their machinery remains spotlessly clean.

Enter synthetic lubricant manufacturers and their products. Cognizant of heightened regulations and the operating demands on food and beverage manufacturers, they are developing high-performance, multitasking food-grade formulas. For them, its a matter of understanding the latest regulatory developments, while remaining mindful of the operational needs of their customers.

Regulatory Developments

It is currently estimated that 60 percent of U.S. food and beverage manufacturers are not using lubricants meeting the stringent requirements for incidental food contact. These H1 lubricants are not supposed to come in contact with the food, but if contamination accidentally does happen, their use helps assure that no serious illness will result. Approved ingredients for making H1 lubricants include the ones found in 21 CFR 178.3570, and those the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers Generally Accepted As Safe (GRAS). Other allowed components may have filed a food contact notification (FCN), a threshold of regulation exemption (TOR), or have a letter of opinion from the FDA or qualified legal firm that says the ingredient is suitable for H1 lubricants. The contamination limits for H1 lubricants in food are set where the USDA maintains no adverse, long-term effects to human health or food quality have been detected – usually not more than 10 parts per million.

The 40 percent of food and beverage processors that do use food-grade products largely use both H1 lubricants and the slightly less-restrictive but still tightly controlled H2 lubricants. H2 lubricants must contain no toxic ingredients, and may be used where there is no possibility of food contact or of compromising human health, such as in plant equipment that is not used for making edibles. This is problematic because by using both in their plants, there is an increased likelihood that a category H2 lubricant may be inadvertently used where only an H1 lubricant should have been used, and vice versa.

That is not the only issue with the current system of categorizing and certifying lubricants. NSF International (an independent, not-for-profit organization that writes standards for food, water and consumer goods) assumed responsibility for approving food-grade lubricants after the USDAs Food Safety and Inspection Service terminated its nonfood compounds registration program in 1998. NSFs food-grade lubricant registration process is modeled on the USDAs H1 authorization program, to verify and approve product formulations. While the H1 program does serve to verify the product formulations, it falls short in validating that the lubricants are blended according to the registered formulation, or that quality controls are in place to maintain the proper formulas. Recently, the NSF took steps to help, in part, address this concern.

In December 2007, NSF published its guidelines for certifying lube manufacturers to a new international standard, ISO 21469, Safety of Machinery Lubricants with Incidental Product Contact – Hygiene Requirements. This standard encompasses four steps, including:

(1) A formulation review to ensure that certified products are formulated with approved ingredients, in accordance with the ISO 21469 standard and the NSF certification policies;

(2) Testing to be conducted annually to verify ongoing compliance of the product based on predetermined acceptance criteria;

(3) Risk assessment to ensure that the manufacturer has accurately identified and evaluated the relevant hazards associated with the certified products intended use; and

(4) An NSF production facility/site audit to confirm that all of the certification policys requirements are met and that quality assurance and quality control procedures are being followed.

On an ongoing basis, ISO 21469 also includes sampling and retesting of products to verify that labeling and product literature remain accurate.

Many lubricant manufacturers (including the authors) are deliberating whether to pursue NSF certification to ISO 21469. At this writing at least one – Shell – has gained the certification; this also led to NSFs certification process becoming accredited by the American National Standards Institute. (Note: To gain the ANSI accreditation, the NSF policy had to have been successfully completed by one manufacturer.)

But beyond registering products or seeking certification, lubricant manufacturers are also advancing their formulas to meet the higher performance demands, as well as specialized needs of the food and beverage manufacturers.

Faster, Smarter, Better

Enter a modern food and beverage plant today and it is likely to reflect faster, smarter and better production methods. There have been major advances in manufacturing and processing techniques, significant improvements in sanitary equipment designs and controls, and increased packaging efficiencies. Smart computer-driven processes are in place, as are detailed quality assurance and quality control protocols. All of these factors converge to create a production line that is pushed to the extremes, requiring every precaution to protect equipment and minimize potential downtime.

Manufacturers of food-grade synthetic lubricants are doing their part on several fronts. They are sponsoring educational seminars and training programs to educate both their distributors and end-users on best practices for applying, using and storing their products (e.g., When using a H1 food-grade lubricant, use the smallest amount required to perform the lubricating task). They are forging relationships with original equipment manufacturers to drive higher equipment reliability. They are working with OEMs to produce OEM-branded, private-label H1 lubricants that the OEMs then offer as the recommended lubricant for use with their warrantied equipment.

Synthetic lubricant manufacturers are also developing formulas that offer a better solution to some of the inherent problems found on food and beverage lines. These are typically based on highly pure synthetic hydrocarbons, including polyalphaolefin (PAO), silicone and polyalkylene glycol (PAG), that have performance advantages over mineral based white oils.

For example there are lubes that can prevent sticking on valves and O-rings during high and low temperature (freezing) applications, and on ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) seals where gas absorption can interfere with normal equipment operation. New industrial-strength lubes which use antimicrobial preservatives have been introduced, as well as food-grade lubricants which do not contain any natural products from animals, nuts or genetically modified organisms (GMOs); this makes them suitable for food plants where vegetarian and/or nut-free foods are produced.

To address equipment wear, synthetic lubricants are being produced in formulas incorporating additives to boost performance and offer superior wear protection and thermal and oxidative stability.

Multitasking Lubes

Regarding specific types of operations (i.e., freezing, baking, steam cooking, peeling, sugar mill, can seamer, etc.), challenges can be even more severe. In freezing and baking operations, where low and high temperatures cause thermal and oxidative breakdown, food-grade synthetic lubricants offer the highest thermal and oxidative stability along with low-temperature fluidity. In steam cookers and peeler operations, high temperature and high moisture conditions can cause conventional lubricant displacement, breakdown from hydrolysis and rusting conditions.

Lube manufacturers have developed products which offer key properties of tack, hydrolytic stability, wear-resistance and rust protection. For example, the major concerns in a sugar mill operation are the high loads and contamination with sugar organics, causing heat, production gear wear and lube breakdown. Todays synthetic lubes used in this application must offer exceptional wear and load protection, in addition to thermal, oxidative and hydrolytic stability.

These properties are also critical in can seamer operations which have high throughputs (up to 3,000+ cans per minute) and where high friction, wear and heat production are common conditions.

Similarly, other common food and beverage line processes have their particular lubricant requirements. These include:

Sheet coat oven conveyor chain lubricants, which demand high smoke and flash points to enhance plant safety and antiwear chemistry to extend the life of the chain.

Chain and conveyor lubes, which provide chain cleanliness, low volatility and anti-wear protection.

Bakery proofer chain lubes to address high humidity conditions.

Bonded dry-film conveyor lubricants for high temperature conditions.

Other lubricants for various manufacturing processes from sanitary steel can body and end manufacturing, to can forming, beading and flanging operations.

Probably one of the most significant developments in the food-grade synthetic lubricant category has been that of multipurpose lubricants. These products enable manufacturers to significantly streamline their inventory of greases and oils and reduce the related costs.

A multipurpose H1 lubricant can be used in at least 90 percent of all applications, thereby replacing all other H1 and H2 products in these instances. When that H1 multipurpose is also enhanced with a proprietary PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) component, there are additional benefits, such as improved lubricity, antiwear and load carrying. Better known by brand names like Teflon and Syncolon, PTFE is a solid lubricant which does not evaporate like base oils (the major component in a lubricant) do. Therefore, it offers better residual properties, is longer lasting and remains on the equipment, lubricating it for three to four times longer than products composed solely of base oils.

More Hurdles

As for additional regulations and certifications, many food-grade lubricants exported outside of the United States also must meet the requirements of other nations regulatory agencies (e.g., the Australia Quarantine Inspection Service and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency). These organizations requirements differ from the USDA and NSF programs, but do incorporate some of the generally accepted components of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system.

HACCP is utilized by food processors in the United States and elsewhere to control contamination and support documentation and ingredient verification. HACCP systems help manufacturers to identify potential risks and then develop controls to mitigate those risks. Synthetic food-grade lubricant manufacturers assist in this area by providing multipurpose H1 products and directing food and beverage manufacturers how to control contamination through proper use, storage and equipment maintenance practices.

Along with these government-enforced regulations, there are certain nongovernmental requirements and certifications displayed by many food-grade lubricant manufacturers, such as Kosher and Halal, enabling the products to be used in related production lines.

Best Practices Product composition and performance features can only be leveraged with the proper application in place. Synthetic lubricant manufacturers have made it part of their customer service initiative to educate their end-users on contamination control practices as:

Using their products in limited quantities, following the adage just enough to do do the job.

Storing in the original container.

Adhering to the OEMs equipment maintenance and lubricating interval schedules.

In addition to offering best practices, many synthetic lubricant manufacturers offer technical tips, product application demonstrations and educational workshops. These value-added offerings to the food and beverage manufacturers and industrial product distributors complement their collaboration with the food and beverage production line OEMs.

Working as an integral member of the team, synthetic lubricant manufacturers have made major strides in addressing the industrys needs while continuing to enhance and advance their products performance capabilities. Going forward, lube manufacturers will continue to work closely with the industry, responding to new regulations and industry challenges with market responsive food-grade synthetic lubricants.