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Misunderstandings concerning applying food grade lubricants
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) formerly approved lubricants as H1 (“for incidental food contact”) and published the list commonly known as the “White Book.” The USDA ceased this acitivity in 1998, and thrid party, Michigan-based NSF International, has since replicated the “White Book” procedures, registering food grade lubricants as H1 food grade in their “e-White Book.”
Under US regulations, HACCP leaves the food processor responsible to fully understand the potential physiological risk that a lubricant may pose to the consumer if a contaminated food or beverage is ingested.
As registration of food grade lubricants with NSF by lubricant manufacturers is voluntary, a food and beverage manufacturer either needs to check with a third party certifier such as NSF, or request a written declaration of the formulation from the lubricant supplier in order to check whether the components used in the lubricants are indeed food grade.
The reality is that most food and beverage manufacturers do not know where to go to check whether a lubricant is food grade – nor may they know that food grade lubricants even exist. Shell is also aware of instances where H1 food grade status of a lubricant is claimed by a lubricant manufacturer whereupon further investigation and testing, the lubricant is found not to be food grade at all as per the US FDA Chapter 21 Section 178.3570 regulations.
We recommend that the US FDA keep a list of registered food grade lubricant third party certifiers in order to give greater clarity and comfort to food & beverage manufacturers when they are selecting food grade lubricants. To be on this list the third party certifier must demonstrate that they follow the requirements of the former USDA white book certification system and they regularly conduct random checks to ensure that food grade lubricants registered with them are in indeed food grade and meet the requirements of CFR 21 Section 178.3750.
Synthetic oils do cost more than traditional mineral oils (in some instances up to 10 times more), but the initial cost of the synthetic can bring subsequent returns, which mineral oil-based lubricants cannot. Further damages that could arise from not using H1 approved food grade lubricants are immeasurable. They also provide better protection to plant and machinery, which means lowering replacement parts and repair bills.
Synthetic food grade lubricants provide better machinery parts wear protection, thus lowering the risk of metal filings generated by wear, which could end up in the finished food product.
According to the Japanese Institute of Plant Maintenance (JIPM), “up to 65% of mechanical equipment failures can be attributed to some form of lubrication deficiency.” 1 The JIPM developed the Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) concept to reach a perfect goal of "zero accidents, zero defects, and zero failures." Lubrication failures can lead directly to production losses, so a robust lubrication program plays an effective part in plant management.
An American beverage manufacturer was able to reduce its maintenance spend by 57% by using a synthetic food grade lubricant. As a result both grease consumption and bearing failures were reduced dramatically thus improving overall productivity levels. The company switching to a food grade lubricant also improved food safety.
Longer oil life from a synthetic lubricant also means a lower number of oil changes – thereby reducing the risk of potential contamination taking place during an oil change. Take for example a New Zealand dairy company that was changing vacuum pump oil 11 times per season using a non-food grade mineral based lubricant. By changing to a food grade synthetic lubricant, they were able to reduce the number of oil changes to 1.5 changes per season – lowering overall maintenance costs by US $17,500 per season and thereby improving food safety by using synthetic food grade lubricants.
Mineral food grade lubricants are highly refined to remove undesirable aromatic or sulphur constituents – but unfortunately the process also removes beneficial components from a lubricant performance point of view.
Vegetable oils are not designed to deal with the demands of food and beverage processing equipment and can cause issues for the plant when they break down (smell, formation of sludge, growth of bacteria, poor wear protection for equipment etc).
Synthetic food-grade lubricants are odourless, tasteless and generally outperform traditional mineral based food grade lubricants. They are specially engineered for high performance. They remain effective in the sub-zero cold of freezers and the heat of ovens. Their increased oxidation and thermal stability, compared to a traditional mineral or white oil-based food grade lubricant, can extend equipment life and reduce downtime, which lowers maintenance costs.
Field experience and case studies have shown that food grade synthetic lubricants have a longer product life and need to be replaced less frequently in machinery. They are also biostatic, which means they do not promote the growth of nor kill bacteria. This is especially beneficial in dairy plants, bakeries and breweries. In many instances, results demonstrate up to four times more life with synthetic oils. A can seamer, using mineral food grade oil was found to suffer more downtime and bearing failure than with a non-food grade alternative. By switching to a food grade synthetic grease, the canning company not only saved on maintenance in the first year, but also improved the quality of can seam, extended re-lubrication intervals and improved food safety. Synthetic lubricants are also fully compatible with machinery designed for mineral oils. This means that changing over from mineral lubricants is simple, however, a stringent flushing procedure should be followed.
Synthetic food grade lubricants today are designed specifically for use in food and beverage manufacturing applications, improving lubrication properties and performance, and offering excellent water resistance.
What is clear is that food manufacturers no longer have to sacrifice plant efficiency for food safety. In fact, they can now reduce overall maintenance costs by using synthetic food grade lubricants.
Mistakes and misapplications do happen and with food safety being a high priority a manufacturer cannot afford to make a mistake by applying a non-food grade lubricant in a food grade application. It is therefore important to ensure a zero risk approach and use ONLY FOOD GRADE LUBRICANTS from the time that raw materials enter the plant until after final packaging.
When consumed, non-food grade lubricants can burn the back of your throat, cause intestinal discomfort and potentially poison you – this is why the acceptable contamination for non-food grade lubricants is zero. The majority of the ill effects of ingestion of non-food grade lubricants are related to the nature of the additives used in such lubricants. They do not have to meet the requirements of 21 CFR 187.3570, and hence are often formulated using components, which are injurious to human health if ingested.
The mineral oil used in non-food grade lubricants accumulates in body tissue 2, as does white mineral oil used in food grade lubricants. The degree of accumulation in body tissue is highest for the lowest molecular mineral oils (it is for this reason that ADI’s for white mineral oil vary according to viscosity).
Synthetic lubricants are usually based upon polyalphaolefins (PAO); tests 3 with rats have shown that PAO does not accumulate in body tissue. Synthetic lubricants also provide better lubrication protection to equipment.
There are however some food OEM’s (e.g. major compressor manufacturers) who do not issue OEM approval for food grade lubricants (including top performing synthetics), preferring to tie their own branded non food grade lubricant to the warranty period, thus food and beverage manufacturers are faced with the decision of whether to sacrifice food safety through the use of non-food grade lubricants or void the warranty on their new equipment.
1 JIPM Study of 696 Equipment Failures, Copyright JIPM, 1987
2 Hard, G. (2000). Short-term adverse affect in humans of ingested mineral oils, their additives and possible contaminants – a review. Human and Experimental Toxicology, 19, 158-172; Noti et al. (2003). Exposure of babies to C15 – C45 mineral paraffins from human milk and breast salves. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 38, 317-325.
3 European Commission Scientific Committee on Food 2001, “Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on hydrogenated poly-1-decene. http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/scf/out95_en.pdf
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