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What makes a lubricant a food-grade lubricant?

Meat Poultry

Today, health and safety are both key concerns for manufacturers of food, beverages, and pharmaceuticals. Strict standards of hygiene and cleanliness are now as vital on the factory floor as they are in operating rooms in hospitals. However, to ensure production and manufacturing equipment operates at top performance, lubrication is a vital ingredient in keeping world nations well fed and healthy.

Regardless of best practices on-site, mechanical maintenance and lubricant leaks are an inevitable element of all operations in the food and pharma industries. From gear oils and greases to cutting-edge fluids and coolants, lubricants never discriminate against the products with which they make contact with. As a result, both the pharmaceutical and food-processing sectors face additional challenges when selecting the correct lubricants to keep their operations running at top performance.

In this blog, we’ll examine what makes an oil or grease a food-grade lubricant. We’ll also explore these food-safe solutions in greater depth, including the different classifications for food-grade lubricants and the applications that they are suitable for. Read on to find out more.

What exactly are food-grade lubricants?

Food-grade lubricants must provide the same functions as other forms of lubrication. For instance, they must protect the metal surfaces of moving components by reducing friction, which causes unwanted wear through sufficient lubrication. They must also prevent oxidation and corrosive forces from harming equipment, and act as a coolant while transferring power to other parts of the system. They are also relied upon to seal parts against contaminant, keeping systems clean, and are often required to be compatible with sealing materials such as rubber.

However, many applications in the food and pharma sector request far more from food grade lubricants. They must be able to resist degradation from chemicals, food products, water and steam. They must also show neutral behaviour toward elastomers and plastics and be capable of dissolving sugars. These built-for-purpose oils must also remain compliant with food health and safety regulations. Furthermore, they must be physiologically inert, odourless and tasteless, as well as internationally approved.

Food-grade lubricants are often subjected to the most intense levels of environmental contaminants. Dust, water and even microorganisms like fungi, yeast and bacteria are all potential risks to lubricants in use.

How registrations can prove that lubricants are to food-grade standards

Acceptance of products by the food and pharmaceutical industries is largely based on verified compliance with internationally accepted benchmarks established for food safety.

Food, beverage and drug processors require food-grade lubricants so that they can readily meet production targets without ever compromising food safety. However, the truth is that the term “food grade” is a moniker that is often used loosely. Certifying or registering a lubricant with a third party such as the NSF, on the other hand, provides assurance that a specific product does answer the regulatory requirements and can be classed as food grade.

How lubricants meet the specifications of food grade

As touched upon earlier, under normal operating conditions, the possibility of a lubrication product having minor contact with consumable products such as food or beverages always exists. As food-grade lubricants are not technically considered a food ingredient, such incidental contact is not allowed to result in food products becoming contaminated.

In order to register a lubricant as food grade, which makes it suitable for use where incidental contact can occur without causing harm, products must be formulated in line with specific regulations. These guidelines offer advice on ingredients suitable for use through the provision of a list of additives and chemical compounds that are permitted. The lubricant must also be colourless, tasteless and without smell. There is also a set 10 parts per million limit that is established for lubricant base oils (like mineral oil) that may be present in food and beverages should incidental contact take place.

Understanding the different food-grade categories

The original classifications for the food-grade lubricants in use today (H1, H2 and H3) were devised by the United States Department of Agriculture. The summary approval of any new lubrication solution and its official registration into one of these designations directly depends on the ingredients involved in its formulation. The following are the three different categories of lubricants and a description of when they can be used.

H1 lubricants

These products are designated as food-grade lubricants. They can safely be utilised in food-processing environments where a possibility exists of lubricants making incidental contact with food products, as well as drinks and pharmaceuticals.

H2 lubricants

These lubrication solutions are also classified as food-grade. However, they are designed for use on machinery and components in operating environments where no chance of contact with food is possible.

H3 lubricants

Finally, H3 food-grade lubricants are often described as “edible oils”. These lubricants are usually used to protect equipment that comes into direct contact with food – for instance, stopping metal meat hooks from experiencing rust.

Always ensure the food grade lubricant you select is correct for each area of your site.

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