Food-grade Lubricants

Food-Grade for Thought?


Food-Grade for Thought?

The term “food-grade lubricant” has been generally accepted by the lubricants industry for quite some time to describe lubricants that are acceptable for incidental contact with foodstuffs. However, recent discussion during the National Lubricating Grease Institute’s Food-Grade Lubricants Working Group meeting in June revealed that many industry players are not completely satisfied with the nuances of the term. 

To begin, it is important to understand the mission of NLGI’s Food-Grade Lubricants Working Group. According to the organization, its primary goals are “to educate and update members of the Working Group and the industry on current issues, regulations and concerns relating to the use of food-grade lubricants. The Working Group provides a forum to communicate and discuss these issues, regulations and concerns.”

The Working Group has partnered with its sister organization across the Atlantic, the European Lubricating Grease Institute, to accomplish these endeavors. According to ELGI, its participation in the Food-Grade Lubricants Working Group is to “increase knowledge and awareness about food-grade lubricant usage and possible risks to support legislators and other interested parties.” 

It is also tasked with connecting with stakeholders in and related to the food production industry in order to advise and share knowledge. It aims to communicate openly about current and potential issues related to lubricants and greases used in the food industry.

So why is “food-grade lubricant” perhaps not the most suitable term anymore? 

A few Working Group members stated that the term can be misleading to customers. A food-grade lubricant is one that is formulated in such a way that it will not contaminate foodstuffs if it comes into contact with it in very small amounts. The term food-grade lubricant fails to specify that very important detail. 

Furthermore, NSF, a third-party standard-setting organization, stated that “the term ‘food-grade’ is one that can be loosely used.” The Working Group would like for the industry to adopt a term that cannot be so informally used and instead conveys that the lubricant in question meets the strict requirements of the food processing industry. 

What other terms may be a viable alternative to the food-grade lubricants designation? 

One Working Group member suggested referring to food-grade lubricants as lubricants suitable for incidental food contact. While the nuances of this are certainly more in sync with the thinking of the Working Group, this option was criticized for being a bit too verbose. 

Along the same vein, one member suggested referring to food-grade lubricants as H1 lubricants. This name indicates that a lubricant has been certified and registered with NSF and has been proven to meet globally accepted standards for food safety. 

While a new term may prove useful, Working Group members expressed concerns about the difficulty of adopting a new term. After all, it is one thing to adjust jargon within a specific organization, such as NLGI, but quite another to ensure that the rest of the industry is on board with the proposed change. 

Currently, no concrete plans have been made to change the way that the industry refers to food-grade lubricants, but the possibility of doing such has now been broached.         

Sydney Moore is managing editor of Lubes’n’Greases magazine. Contact her at