Decluttering Legislations Of Food Grade Lubricants: Who, Where, How And Why

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Although food grade lubricants have been in the market for years, a large portion of consumers and suppliers are still misinformed about the regulations and performance of food safe products. The lack of knowledge holds higher risk to chemical contamination during the manufacturing process and to address this, authorised organisations step in with strategies to grow world-wide advocacy on approved food grade lubricants. By Benjamin Teo, senior technical sales engineer and Laura Lai, marketing communications executive, Tecsia Lubricants Private Limited

Health and safety are crucial priorities in food manufacturing processes. The standard of hygiene is extremely stringent throughout the process lines. As far as possible, manufacturers want to avoid all forms of toxic contamination that are harmful for consumption.

This is undoubtedly a big ongoing challenge. When food contamination is detected, generally, the brand and reputation of the manufacturer will be affected. It can quickly become a headline story and consumers’ trust in the company’s food products will deteriorate, leading to costly recalls. Also, health authorities in several countries are enforcing heavy penalties on food safety negligence that may cause contamination after recent food scares that have happened around the world.

Food Grade Lubricants

Lubricants are commonly and consistently used alongside food production. Despite many food manufacturers being aware of the importance in food grade lubrication, there are still a large number of industrial grade lubricants being used in food handling equipment. There is also a lot of confusing misinformation regarding the regulatory requirements of food-grade lubricants; let alone product registration programs and correct selection of H1 lubricants.

The European Lubricating Grease Institute (ELGI) is thus one body that is constantly working on a goal to reduce false claims and misleading advertising on food grade lubricants. They do this by emphasising on registration and verification of products through the websites of InS Services of Europe and National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) of USA respectively, as well as through certifications of ISO 22000 and hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) processes.

Types Of Lubricants

Three categories of lubricants exist: H1, H2 and H3. Today, only H1 lubricants are recognised as acceptable food grade lubricants, as they essentially perform industrial lubricants but that have the additional advantage of being odourless, tasteless, non-toxic and harmless. These can be either synthetic or mineral-based lubricants, and each have their own pros and cons.

Synthetics typically provide high performance and have longer shelf-lives, but they are also have higher initial costs. The cheaper mineral-based lubricants on the other hand may have higher.

Importance of Safety

It is still a challenge, but it is essential to educate the supply chain to ensure that correct products make their way to the shop floor. Word must spread to people working in the factory, through in-depth training that they must ultimately understand. Likewise, they must also follow best practices for a food safe environment for the end consumers. ELGI and the National Lubricating Grease Institute (NLGI) are using their expertise to ensure lubricating products are safe and also effective. There is an ongoing discussion on an industry code of conduct regarding labelling and marketing of food grade lubricants. One key point to address is the minimising confusion surrounding the various ‘H’ categories.

Together, ELGI and NLGI are pushing to ensure food processing lubricants are properly manufactured and applied. These will indirectly upkeep the trust in consumers. Both associations also reach out to lubricant suppliers, where the latter must hold food safety above all other concerns before selling or trading to their customers. It is advisable for food factories to acquire from a reputable lubricant partner for the correct recommendation of food grade lubricants. The goal has always been to enforce advocacy on food safe lubricant procedures, to educate on the importance and performance and, have hands-on follow-up with value-added services from suppliers.

H1 lubricants are already known to be used at processing lines where there is a possibility of incidental food contact, not exceeding 10 parts per million (ppm). However, this follows the standards administered by FDA and may not necessarily reach European markets. In addition, the European Union (EU) also has its own food safe standards with H1 lubricants. EU follows the system of an acceptable daily intake (ADI). The ADI is the amount of a substance that can people can consume on a daily basis during their whole life without any significant risk to health.

The problem with ADI is that it is not measurable at the food production level. Efforts to redesign food product equipment would then probably be necessary to accommodate the EU standards. As a result, there can be a drastic change in a number of production methods.

Future of Food Grade Lubricants

Where there is a vast quantity of food required, there will surely be a demand for innovation in mechanised production methods. At the same time, food grade lubricants may also evolve by using different base oils with advancing properties and chemistry. Some technological improvements are expected in the development of performance additive packages.

Additives are the key components that provide lubricants the enhanced properties and performances needed in applications. Advanced additives that are food-safe are becoming increasingly affordable due to legislated demands, rising awareness and economies of scale. Hence, food grade lubricants will become relatively affordable. Moreover, they will even match industrial synthetic lubricants’ performances.

All in all, global standards on food safety will improve because food and lubricants are commodities that have a never-ending demand and supply. As such, the need is urgently required for progressive advancements in food safe standards internationally.

Measures like these are put in place; this is so consumers are protected on a world-wide platform and not just regionally. More lubricant supplies are gathering to become advocates of food safety, by lobbying for H1 lubricants to be used in all areas of production. This way, it eliminates chances and risks of accidental grease or oil contamination, facilitates smoother HACCP audits and instils consumer trust by running a lubrication program as ‘cleanly’ as possible.