Lubricants Make the (Food) Grade

Synthetic and anti-microbial lubricants provide better service in food plants.

By David Phillips, Plant Operations Editor

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Anyone who carefully maintains his or her own automobile knows about synthetic motor oils. They cost more than standard refined petroleum products but they last longer and are said to provide better protection.

Synthetic oils also have become part of food processing. Other new developments in the field of food-grade lubricants include the approved use of polyol esters and the development of products containing anti-microbial compounds to reduce decomposition and degradation of the lubricants.

"Among the more recent innovations in food-grade lubricants is the development and utilization of synthetics, renewable oils (such as soy) and silicones to address specific food processing performance requirements that the traditional white mineral oil could not handle," says Mark Greenwell, product manager at Sprayon Products (www.sprayon.com), Cleveland. "These base stocks had not previously been able to be formulated to food grade standards or had not offered a discernible advantage of the traditional food-grade lubricants such as white mineral oil."

The base materials used for lubricants in food processing facilities is highly regulated by the FDA. Lubricants suppliers have worked over the years to develop food-safe lubricants and to win regulatory approval for them. The approved products are registered by NSF International in the H1, HT1 and 3H categories. The important distinction of food-grade lubricants is that their incidental contact with foods will not contaminate the food product.

For the most part, these lubricants find their way onto the processing floor in the form of greases used in conveying and filling equipment or as hydraulic fluids used in the components of all sorts of processing equipment. H1 lubricants often are used throughout the plant, in both processing and packaging areas, and they often are part of a plant’s compliance with a Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan.

"Lubricants are considered potential chemical hazards in HACCP programs," says Jim Girard, vice president and chief marketing officer at Lubriplate Lubricants Co. (www.lubriplate.com), Newark, N.J. "If a lubricant program consists only of H1 food-grade lubricants, then lubricants are not considered potential chemical hazards, and thus a HACCP plan for lubricants is not required by the FDA and/or the USDA."

When choosing lubricants, food manufacturers want the same kind of performance features that the motorist looks for in that synthetic motor oil, and then some. Shear protection is the reason for the stuff in the first place; stability and life expectancy differentiate a top-notch product from an also-ran. For food makers, lubricants will, of course be thrust into a harsh environment.

"Food processors are looking for food-safe, plant-tough lubricants," says Robert Farthing, category manager of specialty fluids at Petro-Canada Lubricants (http://lubricants.petro-canada.ca), Mississauga, Ontario. "These specially formulated food-grade lubricants are effective under severe food processing operating conditions — from food acids and juices to by-products and temperature swings — while still providing the safety plants need."

That means that lubricants must be resistant to wash-out and spray-out if they are to protect machinery from wear, rust and corrosion, says Huafeng "Bill" Shen, an R&D chemist at Bel-Ray Co. (www.belray.com), Farmingdale, N.J. Shen’s company has introduced numerous new products for food processors.

"These two new lines of H1 food-grade products are designed to give exceptional wear protection for hydraulic, gear, chain, compressor, bearing and other applications found in the clean industries such as food, beverage, pharmaceutical and personal care products," Shen says.

While it might have perfectly good applications in other manufacturing sectors, anti-microbial lubricants seem tailor-made for food processors. Petro-Canada offers a new product line called Microl Max that utilizes a trademarked ingredient called Microl to protect fluids and greases from micro-organisms that can cause product degradation and odors. As the company says, this kind of lubricant "actually protects itself."

Living organisms in lubricants is certainly something to be avoided, but lubricants also need to live and let live. Organic standards do not address specifically what kind of lubricants are to be used in an organically certified food plant, but there are some earth-friendly products available.

Petro-Canada offers a line of products under the EdoSia name that are "environmentally-sensitive, recyclable, virtually non-toxic and biodegradable."

The companies who make and market food-grade lubes continue to innovate. In 2011, Bel-Ray rolled out a No-Tox HD Food Grade Oil series and No-Tox Syntra Food Grade Synthetic Oil series. These are available in 11 grades from ISO VG 15 to 1000, the company says.

Lubriplate recently introduced H1 food-grade high-temperature fluids for use on baking oven chains. HTCL FG-68 and HTCL FG-220 are based on polyol ester (POE) fluid technology.
Sprayon's new H1 Food Grade Lubricants are third-party verified to ensure compliance. Leveraging NSF's voluntary registration program for nonfood compounds and proprietary substance, processors can be assured that these new lubricants meet the formulation hygiene requirements, the company notes.

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