The Forthcoming Food-Grade Lubricants You & The Environment

Monday, December 4th, 2017

Moving towards business sustainability, companies would have to create economic values by contributing to a safe and healthy environmental system, without compromising and affecting the future generations. By Benjamin Teo, senior technical sales engineer and Nicholas Seow, senior marketing executive, Tecsia Lubricants

When it comes to food industry plants, the following are critical and essential: food safety to safeguard the consumers, dependable production processes, and from a business standpoint, reducing operational and maintenance costs.

With production ongoing 24/7, it is crucial that machinery breakdowns do not occur due to lubrication failure, which would incur unnecessary cost to the company. Engaging a specialty lubrication engineer (certified lubrication specialist) who understands individual requirements and is capable of offering suitable lubricants and professional advice and services would bring more advantages beyond just the lubrication needs.

Another high priority of food manufacturers is to prevent contamination. Lubricants are generally classified as chemical contaminants, and can lead to food safety issues if they are not managed properly. Using the right lubricants for their respective applications not only ensure food safety, but could also potentially increase productivity through energy, spare parts and labour cost savings.

In this aspect, food-grade lubricants are used in facilities that manufacture food products, but how are they different from conventional industry lubricants?

Food-Grade Lubricants VS Conventional Lubricants

Food-grade lubricants are formulated to be food-safe, meaning they are acceptable for incidental contact with food during production. Therefore, from the health and food safety point of view, they are highly recommended to be used across all lubrication points in the production facility. These lubricants are formulated to deliver the same performance and function as any other lubricants: to protect against wear, friction, corrosion and oxidation, to dissipate heat, etc.

Food-grade lubricants are categorised depending on their safety traits and suitable applications. For example, the H1 lubricants are approved by NSF International and considered to be truly food safe, while 3H refers to the Release Agents that are used in food processing and allows for direct food contact. Regardless of category though, there are still certain limitations on the amount that can be in contact with the food.

With consumers not only becoming more health-conscious but also watchful for the environment, we are seeing a trend for vegetable oil-based lubricants that are environmentally-friendly or have biodegradability capabilities. In the same light, companies are also adopting sustainable business strategies to stay competitive and innovative.

How Do Food-Grade Lubricants Contribute To Sustainable Business?

Consumers have an inseparable relationship with food— because everyone needs to eat—and now they are more inclined to purchase only quality food products that are trustworthy and safe to consume.

To cater to the increasing importance for food safety and transparency, food production companies and even specialty lubricants companies like Tecsia Lubricants are ensuring that they conform to various regulatory bodies, e.g. NSF International, InS, Halal Certification etc., to be socially responsible when producing food products for human consumption.

Especially with food-grade lubricants, manufacturers strive to meet not only regulations pertaining to safety and health, but also environmental considerations such as raw material selection, release during use, unintentional release, and disposal.

When a lubricant is released into the environment during or immediately after use, this poses a risk for contamination of soil and water. Incidents such as this would then greatly affect the environment, health of people, and incur costs for damage control. Today, there are more research and development projects for environmentally-friendly lubricants, but still not many food manufacturers are aware of their benefits.

Environmentally-Friendly Lubricants

What are the factors to determine an ‘environmentally-friendly lubricant’?

• Uses base oil derived from ‘renewable’ sources, such as vegetable oils

• Low or negligible level of additives that have detrimental effects on humans, animals, or plants

• Low or negligible level of volatile organic compounds

• Decomposes faster than conventional products by naturally-occurring bacteria present in oil or water (biodegradable)

• Decomposed by-products do not have harmful effects for the environment

Biodegradability is a major factor when we talk about environmental hazards as a result of the release of a lubricant. The effects of conventional mineral oil-based lubricants on the environment can be devastating, especially towards animals, plants and other wildlife. These can form a viscous coating and deposit in soil, sediments, shorelines, and water, and these persistent residues will accumulate over time in soil and water.

Vegetable oil-based lubricants on the other hand have a higher biodegradability and dissipate much more rapidly as compared to conventional mineral oil-based lubricants. Although vegetable oil-based lubricants are still not widely used in the food industry at present, there are developments and advances in this area and they will definitely have a market in the future.


In today’s context, all foods are manufactured and processed using industrial equipment and machineries. As such, it is inevitable that the possibility of interaction between the lubricant for the machinery and the food exists, be it direct or incidental contact.

Companies are continuously putting in effort, time and money in the food they produce, and investing in research and development to make our food more safe and healthy to consume. Government bodies, agencies and organisations are also establishing ever-stringent regulations and food standards to ensure that the foods are being processed according to the appropriate guidelines.

While environmentally-friendly or biodegradable lubricants are not widely used, the changes in demographics, consumers’ behaviour, and advance in technology and new regulations will certainly propel a forward drive towards their development and acceptance. It is the responsibility of industry players to educate the public and share our insights and knowledge to the rest of the world.