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Lubricant related incidents

Current FDA regulations have a zero parts-per-million tolerance of non-food grade oil with food. If contaminated by non-food grade lubricants, the food is considered “adulterated”.

Experience shows that many companies have had lubricant contamination incidents however these incidents go unreported, especially if they are “caught” before the food or beverage leaves the plant. Lubricant contamination is widely perceived as a food quality problem, resulting in taint to the food, rather than the public health risk that it is. For reasons of customer confidentiality, we are unable to disclose the names of the many food & beverage companies that contact Shell on a regular basis seeking to change over to food grade lubricants after a lubricant contamination incident.

There are however some local and globally reported product contamination incidents and recalls attributed to non-food grade lubricant contamination which include:
  • Sliced Turkey Meat: On June 16, 2000 Farmland Foods Inc, a Kansas City, Missouri, USA firm, recalled approximately 86,000 pounds of sliced turkey inadvertently exposed to a non-food grade lubricant during processing. The problem was discovered by the company through analysis of their consumer complaints and a follow up investigation. Consumers complained of off-color, off-odor turkey and some consumers reported temporary intestinal discomfort. Source:
  • Smoked boneless hams: On April 1, 1998, Smithfield Packing Co, Kinston, NC, recalled 490,877 pounds of smoked boneless hams after some were adulterated with gear lubricant. Several customers reported a “bad taste” and “burning in the throat for up to three hours” after eating the ham. Source:
  • Macaroni & Cheese: In 2001, 142,182 cases of Kraft EasyMac microwavable servings of macaroni and cheese, manufactured by Cloud Corporation, Illinois were recalled, by Kraft Foods. The product was contaminated with a compressed air system lubricant. Source:
  • Bottled Soft Drink: On December 21, 1994, Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Buffalo, Inc, Buffalo, New York, recalled 3,616 cases (8 bottles per case) of Coca Cola Classic in 2 litre plastic bottles. The product contained gear lubricant. Source:
  • Bottled Soft Drink: On August 12th 1992, Coca-Cola Bottling Works of Tullahoma, Inc, Tullahoma, Tennesessee, recalled Coca Cola Classic, Carbonated Cola-Flavored Soft Drink in 10 fluid ounce glass non-returnable bottles, in 16 fluid ounce plastic bottles and in 2 litre plastic non-returnable bottles. Product was contaminated with gear lubricant. Source:
  • Canned Soft Drink: On October 9, 1990, Coca Cola Bottling Company, Maspeth, New York, recalled 4,000 cases of Diet Coke in 12 ounce cans, packed in 6 pack cases and Sprite in 12 ounce cans, packed in 20 can packages. Product was contaminated with Dicolube PL, a conveyor lubricant. Source:
  • Bottled Soft Drink: On November 8, 2002, a consignment of soft drinks was recalled owing to lubricant contamination. The product was “Big Thirst” (five flavors) in 1.25 liter bottles, brought through NQR Grocery Clearance Stores in Victoria, Australia. Food Standards Australia indicated that the lubricant “may cause irritation if consumed”. Source:
  • Infant Formula and Milk Powder: In 2002, Arinco, manufacturers of milk powder at Vidabaek, Denmark (owned by Arla Foods), found 1100 tons of milk powder manufactured between January 3 and June 28, 2002, were contaminated by 0.50 to 0.75 liters of lubricating oil, which contained very fine iron particles. The problem was discovered when a customer in Thailand complained that the milk powder had a pale grey tint. Arinco found that the incident had occurred in their packaging plant, where an axle in a gearbox was worn. This allowed oil to seep out through a ball joint and down to the powdered milk. According to the Danish Veterinary and Food Authorities, the contamination did not lead to any health risk to consumers but it did lead to a large recall of several brands of milk powder. East Asiatic Co, to whom Arla was supplying products as an external contract manufacturer, withdrew Dumex’s Mamex Infant Formula and Mamil Follow-On from the shops in Thailand. Abbott Laboratories, who also sourced milk powder from Arinco, withdrew Permilac Formula 1 and Permilac Formula 2 from China, as well as their baby milk powder, ‘Gain’, from the Philippines. East Asiatic Co made a total loss of 40 million dkk (US $6.5m), since their baby food products occupied the leading market position in Thailand before the incident. They sued Arla for losses not covered by their insurance policies. Source: The Straits Times (July 12, 2002); Youth Daily, Shanghai, (July 14, 2002); AFX News Ltd (August 26, 2002); Philippine Daily Enquirer (July 13, 2002).
  • Can of Baby Food: On September 1, 2000, a spokesman from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, U.K., confirmed that tests on a tin of baby food had revealed a toxic substance. He is quoted as saying that the investigations indicated that the tin of Heinz Cheesy Parsnip and Potato Bake was contaminated with mineral oil lubricant, possibly from a machine in the manufacturing process or from the can manufacturing process. A mother claimed the food “smelled of tar” and alerted the environmental health officer who took the tin for analysis. Source: The Sentinel, September 1, 2000.
  • Wine Grapes: In April, 1996, several consignments of grapes were contaminated by mineral hydraulic lubricant, which sprayed during harvesting from a ruptured hose onto the grapes. The incident occurred at the vineyard of EEC Horticulture Ltd, Meenee, and Corbans Wines Ltd vineyard at Haumoana, New Zealand. The contamination was discovered when the harvester broke down at Haumoana. The contaminated grapes were dumped and the incident resulted in legal action by Corbans against the harvesting company (DJ Erickson Farms Ltd) and EEC Horticulture. Corbans Wines Ltd won the case and were awarded NZ $269,609 (US $175,246) plus costs in damages against the harvesting company for negligence. They were also allowed to claim NZ $166,847 (US $108,784) for this amount against the EEC Horticulture. Source: High Court of New Zealand
  • Seasoning: In 2002 Mishima Shokuhin, a major Japanese seasoning company found 55 tons of Furkake seasoning was contaminated with a mineral lubricant. The incident was reported in the local paper in Hiroshima. The contamination was only discovered after distribution of the products. The probable source of the contamination was the oil seal of the hydraulic cylinder in the cutter had worked itself loose. Cost of the incident was estimated at GBP 1.1 million (US $1.9m based on retail sale value).
  • Rice Oil: In 1979 an epidemic of a skin disease occurred at a teaching hospital in central Taiwan. Approximately 2000 people were affected and investigations showed they had consumed contaminated rice oil and ingested 1000 mg PCB’s (equivalent to 16.6mg /kg body weight) plus 3.8 mg of PCDF’s. The contamination occurred when a heat transfer pipe using PCB’s as a circulating fluid leaked. Following this approximately 270 PCB transplacental babies were born to women affected between 1979 and 1986. In Yen et al’s study, results showed the stillbirth rate was five times higher than that of pregnant women in the general population. This was attributed to deterioration of the placental function caused by the poisoning. Infant mortality rates were also significantly higher than that of the general population. The quantity of PCB in breast milk was much higher than that transferred through the placenta, and was likely to accelerate the death of babies. Source: Public domain – Taiwanese ‘Yucheng’ PCB Episode. Yen et al (1989).
  • Medicine tablets: In July 2002, an FDA inspection revealed the presence of lubricant black specks, combined with metal particles in the specks, on carispordol tablets at the factory of a medicine manufacturer in the US (Medpoint Healthcare Ltd, New Jersey). Studies by consultants attributed the presence of black specks to lubricant introduced from the upper cam into the empty die cavity. Trace amounts of metals were attributed to metal abrasion at the tooling keys. The lubricant spotting could be traced back to 1983.
While most product recalls in general result from food-borne bacteria, foreign body contamination (eg insects, wood, metal, stones etc) or processing and labeling errors, nevertheless lubricant contamination plays a costly role. Brand damage and recall costs, as highlighted above, arising from a lubricant contamination incident far exceed the costs of using food grade lubricants.

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