When to Use Food Machinery Grade Lubricants

Sept. 2, 2016
Thanks to advances in lubricant technology, incidental contact between food product and lubricant shouldn't be anything to worry about. Are they in your food or beverage factory?

If a food grade lubricant is doing its job, you won’t even know it’s there.

Are your conveyors and pumps and pulleys and packers all humming along smoothly and efficiently, rapidly moving and preparing your food or beverage product from factory ingredients to consumer good? Is downtime for your equipment a rare or non-existent issue? And most importantly, are your interactions with Food and Drug Administration and/ or United States Department of Agriculture inspectors uneventful, and possibly even pleasant?

If you answered yes to all of these, yeah, your NSF H1 registered food machinery grade lubricant is doing the job. H1 lubricants are designed for incidental contact in food-processing environments. H2 are not intended for any contact.

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) designates food grade lubricants, for use in food, pharmaceutical, cosmetics and animal feed manufacturing with the NSF ISO 21469 certification.
The FDA and USDA mandates that any machinery that may incidentally drip, drizzle, spray or sprinkle any lubricating oil on food and beverage carry this mark, which in essence means they are non-toxic and if they end up in your water bottle or kid’s breakfast cereal, they won’t cause you harm.

You don't want anything contaminating your product, but an H1 lubricant is safer than Bruce Banner's blood, as we learned in "The Incredible Hulk.".
Image: Marvel Studios

Most likely, your food processing plant uses these already in the places it should. If not, that’s crazy because they’ve been used since before the Cuban Missile Crisis, which may or may not have been caused by people upset that all their food tasted like an engine block.

“Up to about 1961, food processors were using general purpose lubricants to manufacture their product,” explains Jim Girard, vice president and chief marketing officer at Lubriplate Lubricants, a company in operation since 1870. “That wasn’t good. Those additives can be harmful.”

At the time, a company who used food grade lubricants would see a downshift in production and machinery life, because even though the oil was safe, it wasn’t very effective.

“At first, they didn’t perform nearly as well, Girard says. “Now they are equal to the task as general purpose lubricants are.”

If you are familiar with the evolution of the electric car, it’s the same trajectory. Even 10 years ago, a hybrid would struggle up a steep hill, while the new Tesla Model 3 is expected to go 0-60 mph in under 4 seconds.

H1 lubricants are “now equal rival” to traditional counterparts, and include anti-wear additives to reduce downtime, extend lube and fluid change intervals, work in multiple applications, consolidate lubricant inventory, improve performance and extended machinery life, the company says.

H1 lubricants are safe for consumers, and also can increase machinery life.
Photo: Lubriplate

In addition, Lubriplate's line of H1 lubricants include an anti-microbial additive called Lubri-Armour, which prevent the decomposition of lubricants caused by microorganisms, and keep them fresh longer in harsh environments.

“This makes sure bacteria, listeria and mold do not invade our lubricants,” Girard says of the additive.

Other companies also use similar additives, which Girard says came into use in 2012 to prevent possibly fatal outbreaks.

“What can happen is the lubricant can become a host for the bacteria,” Girard says. “It can convey the bacteria into the product.”
One thing Girard says Lubriplate has the edge in is their actual lubricant.

“They are based on USP white mineral oil, the purest food grade oil you can possibly use.”

This type of oil is tasteless and odorless, and also found in sunscreen and baby oil.

Lubriplate offers several H1 options for food processing machinery.
Photo: Lubriplate

Whatever brand you go with, it is important to look for the NSF H1 certification. And it’s not just because some government agency tells you to.

“The reason it’s in 100% of food grade programs, is because you don’t want to leave anything up to chance,” Girard says.

In that way, he says, it’s like a form of insurance.

“The cost is higher, but the safety benefit outweighs the initial cost,” he explains. “They can be 30-50% higher. But if you get contaminated , what’s that cost? Or if an FDA inspector comes into your factory, and he or she sees you’re not using, they can shut you down. If they shut you down for a week, how many dollars are lost?”

About the Author

John Hitch | Editor, Fleet Maintenance

John Hitch, based out of Cleveland, Ohio, is the editor of Fleet Maintenance, a B2B magazine that addresses the service needs for all commercial vehicle makes and models (Classes 1-8), ranging from shop management strategies to the latest tools to enhance uptime.

He previously wrote about equipment and fleet operations and management for FleetOwner, and prior to that, manufacturing and advanced technology for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest. He is an award-winning journalist and former sonar technician aboard a nuclear-powered submarine where he served honorably aboard the fast-attack submarine USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723).