One of the biggest concerns amongst food, drink and pharmaceutical manufacturers is the health and safety aspect of their products. This means that they are fastidious about hygiene and cleanliness in every aspect of their production processes.
When most people think about health and safety practices in the consumables industries, they think about hygiene practices such as hand washing, hair nets and avoiding cross contamination by washing hands. Seldom do they think about lubrication, but it plays such a vital role in the production process that it should not be overlooked, even for one second.
As lubrication keeps the wheels of production in motion, it plays a vital role in business. However, whenever machinery is used, it is inevitable that lubricant leakages and maintenance will become an issue at some point, and when it does, lubricant will inevitably touch some of the products being manufactured. This is why in food processing and drug industries, it is vital that food grade lubricants, like those manufactured by Fuchs, are used as standard.
What are food grade lubricants?
Food grade lubricants are unique in that they must be able to function like any other lubricant and offer protection against wear and tear, oxidation and corrosion, as well as dissipating heat and transferring power. They have to work with sealing materials too, on top of resisting degradation from a wide range of food substances, chemicals and water or steam.
Additionally, food grade lubricants must behave neutrally when exposed to plastics and elastomers, and must be capable of dissolving sugars.
Of course, the most important thing that a food grade lubricant has to do is be compatible with the strict food health and safety regulations, whilst being both odourless and tasteless, so that they do not interfere with the integrity of consumable products.
Contaminants in the food industry
The food industry can pose many issues when it comes to lubricants, which can so easily be contaminated with things like milled corn dust, and plant water, depending on the type of food products being created.
Of course, lubricants can also be contaminated by bacteria, yeast and fungi, which can find its way into oil through a wide range of food and chemical residues, so it is vitally important that food grade lubricants and checked and maintained on a regular basis.
Food grade lubricants are categorized by The United States Department of Agriculture, which is an international authority on the subject. It came up with the food-grade designations of H1, H2 and H3. Each new lubricant is assigned one of these categories when it is approved for use as a food grade lubricant.
H1 lubricants are those that can only be used in an environment where incidental contact between lubricant and food is possible.
H2 lubricants can be used on machine parts or equipment in places where there is zero chance of contact between lubricant and product.
Finally, H3 lubricants are usually edible oils, which can be used directly on equipment that will come into contact with food, such as meat hooks or transportation trolleys.
The decision of which category any given oil should be placed into is a difficult one, which can take a lot of time to work out, but it would be fair to say that the USDA always err on the side of caution when deciding which category to place a lubricant into.
Approval and Compliance
At one time, the USDA was responsible for the approval and compliance process in regards to food grade lubricants, and manufacturers would have to prove that every ingredient in their oil formulation was an allowable and safe ingredient, as listed in the Guidelines of Security Code of Federal Regulations by the United States Food and Drug Administration. However, this has not been the case since September 30, 1998.
Food grade lubricants granted registration before this date are able to remain in effect, but any future products will not be registered by the USDA.
Despite this fact, the classifications H1, H2 and H3 drawn up by the USDA are still a recognized way to approve lubricants for use in the food and drug industries and many manufacturers of lubricants for use in these industries still aspire to getting their products into these categories.
Spearheaded by Kluwer Lubricants of Germany, an effort was made to create a new standard for food grade lubricants – DIN V 0010517 2000-08. This method for classifying food grade lubricants has now been approved at a higher DIN level and The German Institute for Standardization (DIN) has submitted this new standard as a draft to the International Organization for Standardization, which is based in Geneva. If accepted, this international standard will be released and more widely adopted.
The National Sanitary Foundation
In the meantime, The National Sanitary Foundation has grown globally as the successor as the USDA. NSF International, The Public Health and Safety Company is a nonprofit, independent organization that has been working to protect public health for over half a decade, and has the World Health Organization’s backing in matters relating to food and drinking water safety. It works to resolve issues between business, industry, regulatory bodies and the public. It is a good place to get information regarding food grade lubricants should you need to do so.
NSF has at this point pretty much adopted the DIN Standard V 0010517 2000-08 as its own guideline for the registration of food grade lubricants. Any lubricants that have been registered using this system, which also uses the H classifications, can be assumed to be safe to use with food production equipment, depending on classification.
Buying food grade lubricants
When buying food grade lubricants, it is always best practice to buy form a well known manufacturer, such as Fuchs, and from companies that have a long and impeccable track record of providing such substances to the food and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries. By doing so, you can all but guarantee that the lubricants you are using are completely safe and appropriate.