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OPTIMAX FoodGrade Lubricants

Understanding Food-Grade Lubricants

Food Safety
Health and safety are priorities for food, drink and drug manufacturers. Standards of cleanliness and hygiene are as important on the shop room floor as in hospital operating rooms. But when it comes to production equipment, lubrication keeps the business of feeding and healing the nation on track. Lubricant leakages and maintenance are an inevitable part of all industries. Lubricants do not discriminate against the materials with which they come into contact. So the food-processing and pharmaceutical industries have additional challenges in selecting the right lubricants to do the job. This article looks at the previous, current and future standards relating to lubrication in this industry.

What is a Food-Grade Lubricant
Food-grade lubricants must perform the same technical functions as any other lubricant: provide protection against wear, friction, corrosion and oxidation, dissipate heat and transfer power, be compatible with rubber and other sealing materials, as well as provide a sealing effect in some cases. In addition, different applications within the food and drugs business demand that lubricants resist degradation from food products, chemicals and water/steam, must exhibit a neutral behavior toward plastics and elastomers, and have the ability to dissolve sugars. These oils must also comply with food/health and safety regulations, as well as be physiologically inert, tasteless, odorless and internationally approved. Lubricants can be subjected to intense environmental contaminants. A corn-milling environment generates significant dust. Although not as hard as silica-based dust, it still presents a problem for filtration. A meat plant requires stringent steam cleaning at all times, so the risk of water contamination is high. Some plants experience as much as 15 percent by volume of water in their gear oils. Another aspect of lubrication contamination that poses a risk to food-grade lubricants is the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and fungi. While these can be a risk in industrial environments, the opportunity for contamination in the food-production environment is even greater.

Food-Grade Categories
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the original food-grade designations H1, H2 and H3. The approval of a new lubricant and its registration in one of these categories depends on the list of the ingredients. H1 lubricants are food-grade lubricants used in food-processing environments where there is the possibility of incidental food contact. H2 lubricants are food-grade lubricants used on equipment and machine parts in locations where there is no possibility of contact. H3 lubricants are food-grade lubricants, typically edible oils, used to prevent rust on hooks, trolleys and similar equipment. Deciding whether there is a possibility of contact is tough, and many have erred on the side of safety with respect to selecting H1 over H2.

The Future of Food-Grade Approval
Registrations granted prior to this date will remain in effect, and as before, USDA H1 and H2 still stand as a recognized approval for food and drug suitability. In fact, many lubricant manufacturers still aspire to the USDA H1 and H2 categories and approval process, and supply certification from their boards of directors to guarantee that claim. The National Sanitary Foundation (NSF) has evolved globally to succeed the USDA. NSF International, The Public Health and Safety CompanyTM, is an independent, nonprofit organization that has been committed to public health, safety and protection of the environment for more than 55 years. NSF has earned the Collaborating Center designations by the World Health Organization (WHO) for both food safety and for drinking water safety and treatment. It is conceived and administered as a public service organization, serving as an independent and neutral body to resolve issues between regulatory bodies, business, industry and the public. NSF has basically adopted the DIN Standard V 0010517, 2000-08 as its own guideline for a registration of food-grade lubricants. Using the former USDA H1 and H2 classifications, NSF has submitted its draft standard, NSF 116-2000 (nonfood compounds used in food-processing facilities - food- grade lubricants) to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The draft standard covers the former USDA H1 and H3 categories. The DIN standard V 0010517, 2000-08 has also been adopted by the European Lubricating Grease Institute (ELGI) and National Lubricating Grease Institute (NLGI) as their guideline.

NSF 116-2000 Draft Standard in Detail
The purpose of the standard is to establish food safety evaluation criteria for food-grade lubricants used in food-processing, packaging, handling and storage. It provides a mechanism for the validation of a manufacturer’s claims and labeling, but does not provide a mechanism for demonstrating this through laboratory testing. The scope does not cover evaluation of product performance or operational criteria inside food-processing facilities. However, it does specify definitions and requirements for food-grade lubricants in lubrication, heat transfer, load transmission and corrosion protection of machinery and equipment in food-manufacturing and processing facilities. Because the scope is food-grade lubricants, only H1 and H3 are covered in this draft standard. The requirements section of the draft standard covers labeling and formulation. More specifically in labeling, the name of the product, the manufacturer’s name (or name of the company marketing the product), category code and directions regarding use must be displayed. The directions for use must state the minimum required amount to achieve the product’s required purpose or technical effect. All references to the company name on the labels must be in complete agreement with the disclosure information on formulation.