When Do I Need To Use Food-Grade Oils?

April 30, 2008
The second in a series of monthly columns addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

Welcome to MRO Q&A. This is the second in a series of monthly columns addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants. We’ve assembled a panel of plant operations experts to answer any question you have on plant-floor issues. To pose a question, click to our Plant Maintenance Resource Center.

When should I use food-grade white oils in my manufacturing equipment?

Formulated white mineral oils fall into the FDA/USDA/NSF H1 category, indicating the lubricant is permitted for use where there is a possibility of incidental contact with food. Food-grade oils can act as an insurance policy in case of accidental contamination because they won’t ruin the food product; this is the best way to determine if you may need them in your operations.

There are different types of food-grade lubricants available on the market to meet any plant need. For example, food-grade greases must perform the same technical functions as oils but maintain a more viscous texture and have a more tolerant thermal breakdown threshold. Given the extreme environments food-grade oils must work in, food-grade greases are a critical component to maintaining properly working machinery and should be considered as part of the lubrication equation.

Possible contamination situations include production machinery where gear lubricant may leak from a lender agitator gearbox, hydraulic fluid leaking due to a ruptured hose or where chain lubricant on conveyor belts could mix with food products.

What are the benefits of using food-grade white oils and thus using a more expensive lubricant?

The benefits are both tangible and intangible, and ultimately part of the question includes what is the price of having peace of mind. The cost of shutting down production because of a lubricant leak not only has direct financial ramifications but also backlogs production and ultimately impacts product delivery to customers. Depending on the scale of contamination, it also could damage your company’s reputation.

But many of the benefits are very tangible. Food-grade oils offer lubrication performance that some traditional oils can’t match. For example, use of synthetic food-grade oils allows extended drain intervals, in many cases lowering the lubricant cost and reducing maintenance work. Food-grade white oils also have excellent thermal stability and resistance to water and corrosion, which means equipment is better protected.

The food industry consistently provides some of the harshest operating conditions for machinery, with exposure to acids, sugars and alkalines that corrode equipment. Food manufacturing also requires frequent wet-downs and includes temperature variations from freezing to extreme heat. Lubricants that withstand all these conditions ultimately keep performance optimized and machinery protected and are a worthwhile investment.

For all the benefits of white oils, when can I safely get around using them?

Many areas of food production that don’t require food-grade white oils are worth exploring. While in the long run food-grade lubricants are very beneficial, a sound lubrication strategy for plant operations can optimize your financial investment and should include a plan for both food-grade lubricants and alternatives, such as “H2” lubricants, to keep your system running properly and cost-effectively.

H2 lubricants can be used in locations where there is no possibility of the lubricant or lubricated part coming into contact with edible products, like in closed. These examples should help as you examine your plant operations and conduct a lubrication audit to determine where to integrate food-grade lubricants into your system.

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