By Giles Cutter
THE listeriosis outbreaks, while not lubricants related, brought food safety into sharp focus. Lubricants are an integral part of the food production process and companies need to be serious about reviewing the risks.
However, there is a premium to be paid for food-grade lubricants due to their specialist nature. But numerous companies use inferior, cheaper products and only apply food grade products when forced to, placing consumers at risk.
As there is no international standard for food-compatible lubricants, it is normal practice to use the US standards issued by the FDA (USA Food and Drug Administration) and USDA (US Department of Agriculture) standards. The USDA ceased registration of lubricants in 1998, and this function was taken over by the private institution NSF International (previously known as the National Sanitation Foundation).
As South Africa becomes more international, international standards such as BRC, demand more rigorous adherence to food safety. Lubricants that should be used in a food production plant are known as H1 lubricants, or incidental contact lubricants.
These lubricants are not expected to come into contact with food, but many do. H1 lubricants must comply with the 21 CFR 178.3570 regulation which establishes formulary requirements for greases and lubricants intended for use in food processing and handling applications where incidental contact may occur.
Another certification, ISO 21469 is an international standard for hygienic production of H1 and HT1 products. Fuchs Lubricants South Africa is the only plant in Africa to hold this certification.
Cassida, a brand manufactured by Fuchs Lubritech, was the first food grade lubricant brand in the world to achieve ISO 21469 certification and as such set the standard for food safety. Today Cassida has certified production sites in Germany and the USA and its food production facilities are the most modern in the world.
ISO 21469 certification combined with NSF H1 registration offers food manufacturers the assurance that they will always have the safest food grade lubricant.
Lubricants (oils and greases) cannot have any adverse effects on foodstuffs. This means that lubricants, which may accidentally come into contact with products intended for consumption as a result of leaks, which are not always technically avoidable, or the unsuitable design of equipment or machinery, must satisfy the most stringent requirements.
Purchasing a cheaper, no-name brand lubricant without the necessary certifications may be tempting but can in fact put a company out of business. It is quite clear that during the manufacture of food, more stringent rules are applied in order to achieve the greatest level of purity and to avoid cross-contamination.
While the application of food-grade lubricants does not differ from other industries, there are more stringent requirements regarding hygiene and contamination. Machinery and equipment in the food industry do not in principle differ from those used in other industries, but the environmental influences may be considerably more complex.
There is a need for daily cleaning of machinery, sometimes with high-pressure water washing and aggressive cleaning or with sanitising fluids. There is possible contamination with active substances such as fruit juices and sugar as well as the impact of extreme temperatures, from shock freezing to wafer ovens (low to very high temperatures in short time periods).
Today’s H1 lubricants are high-performance lubricants, based on selected technical, pharmaceutical and medicinal mineral white oils or synthetic base fluids.
This and the fact that the manufacturer is allowed to use designated FDA chemicals only -and that the products should be manufactured in dedicated parts of a plant – is resulting in higher R&D and manufacturing costs, leading to more expensive products.
Using synthetic products, the higher price is often compensated by a longer product lifetime and lower overall maintenance costs. Speaking with customers in the food industry, one often encounters that H1 food-specific lubricants, are viewed generally worse in quality than standard lubricants. They have said that lifetime and wear protection are problems, and application is difficult and problematic.
This may have been the case 20 years ago, but today modern H1 lubricants are well designed and balanced high-performance products.
By using “synthetics” the user usually gets “cleaner” and safer products, superior performance, extended lubricant life and a rationalised portfolio. Invariably, less lubricant is used, there is reduced downtime, minimised waste and disposal, and extended machinery life. This results in lower overall maintenance costs and improved food safety.
Maintenance and downtime costs should never be under-estimated. The correct use of dedicated lubricants may result in higher lubricant costs but will ultimately reduce the overall maintenance budget.
Giles Cutter is Lubritech Divisional Manager at Fuchs Lubricants South Africa