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Three key considerations for proper lubricant selection in food processing

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During the last few decades, the food processing industry has significantly evolved. From shifting trends in consumer preferences to changes in food safety regulations and international supply and demand, many factors have contributed to where the industry stands today. However, an ever-increasing focus on beverage and food diversity, as well as the continuing efforts to ensure food is safer for all, now present new challenges for food processors and their operations.

As a result, when choosing the correct food processing lubricants, multiple aspects of the process must now be considered to determine overall impact on final products. In this blog, we’ll look at three important points when picking the proper lubricant for an operation.

Minimising potential risks

Lubricant contamination presents major challenges to operators in the food processing sector. Product recalls can be costly to manufacturers but also negatively affect their professional reputation, leading consumers to seek out alternative products. The employment of food grade lubricants which are certified, registered and tested to meet exacting performance and health and safety standards, however, can alleviate potential risks of contamination. While eliminating risks entirely is practically impossible, understanding the crucial difference between the established classifications for food grade lubricants can help companies to select the right products for their purposes.

The H1 category covers incidental food contact. In the industry, these products are sometimes called “above the line” lubricants. In this expression, “the line” is referring to the point when food is found on factory conveyor belts, in drums, or other areas onsite. These lubricants are designed for use in applications if there is a chance of incidental contact between fluids and food.

H2 lubricants can also be utilised in food processing facilities. However, these products are restricted for deployment in areas where no chance of contact exists between food and fluids. These products are often known as lubricants that are “below the line”. They must only be used in places onsite where food is never being processed.

Finally, H3 lubricants are classed as soluble oils. This classification encompasses edible and soluble oils, for example sunflower oil. H3 lubricants are mostly used for cleaning and to prevent rust forming on meat hooks and trolleys, along with other equipment used in processing plants. The equipment parts that are in contact with edible products must be regularly cleaned and kept free of the soluble oil employed before they are reused.

Correct lubricant for specific applications

The complexity and diversity of applications within the current industrial market rarely allow for a multi-purpose lubricant that suits every given situation. Each application will have its own specific requirements for cleanliness, viscosity, corrosion and rust protection, extreme pressure (EP), anti-wear, antifoam, oxidation inhibition and water separation. Typically, there are minimum performance characteristics required for every application. For instance, a gear lubricant must deliver EP properties along with other requirements, while a lubricant for air compressors must offer cleanliness and oxidation stability.

As a rule, formulators determine the best additives to include to meet unique performance requirements for the lubricant. Filter changes, drain intervals and regular fluid analysis and monitoring helps to ensure operations continue to run at maximum efficiency. Reduced downtime, improved energy efficiency and less oil interval changes quickly translate to cost savings for food processing plants. Updating products in use to higher performing solutions like synthetic lubricants can be a good option to achieve such operational advantages. Consulting with an expert lubrication engineer is also a viable way to ensure that the best lubricant for an application is selected. Engineers will assess all known variables like operating conditions, food grade category (H1, H2, H3) requirements and application requirements, as well as formulation restrictions.

Compatibility with materials

Finally, lubricant compatibility with different material types employed in food processing facilities must also be carefully considered. Gear boxes, compressors, engines, pumps and other components in mechanical systems can be manufactured from different kinds of metallic components. Choosing a lubricant that is formulated to answer the specific requirements of either a metal, or in other cases, multiple metal types, while working under standard operating conditions is also essential. Variables like metal type, operating temperature range and movement of machine parts are all critical to understand how the product needs to perform inside the system.

Gaskets, hoses, seals and other rubber and plastic parts are equally vital to ensure equipment lifespan is extended. If lubricants damage a seal’s integrity due to poor compatibility, it may start to break down and may even deteriorate entirely. Loss of oil because of leaks leads to equipment downtime and can increase operational costs significantly.

While loss of productivity and profit can have a negative impact on business, the consequences of selecting an incorrect food grade lubricant can be even more damaging to companies in the industry. When an incorrect solution is used leads to product recall or customer harm, operations can face investigation and if found neglectful, can face heavy penalties from regulators.

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