Lubricants for the Food Industry

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Food grade lubricants

Food grade lubricants – Lubricants are viscous fluids applied to prevent friction between metal parts. They are used in all types of machines, whether they are car engines, gearboxes or industrial equipment.

Proper lubrication reduces wear on parts, avoiding unplanned maintenance, reducing costs and increasing the reliability of the production process.

There are different types of lubricants suitable for different applications. Some segments have specific rules, such as the food industry that needs proper lubricants for incidental food contact, called food grade lubricants.

According to the Brazilian Association of Food Industries (ABIA), the food sector is the largest in the country, contributing almost 65% of the Brazilian trade balance and representing more than 10% of the national GDP. Brazil is the second largest exporter of processed foods in the world, with these products representing more than 18% of the country’s exports (data of 2020). To be able to meet all the market demand of this industry, it is necessary to have automated, efficient and reliable equipment.

Food Grade Lubricants

The food industry is one of the most demanding segments in the market today. In addition to conventional lubrication needs, this market also demands products that are approved for incidental food contact and other characteristics, such as the ability to operate at extreme temperatures, resistance to steam and to contamination by food, beverages and water.

Food grade lubricants have become synonymous with products that comply with the standards of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the entity responsible for creating regulations and certifications that ensure safety for use in the food and pharmaceutical industries.

Food grade lubricants are used in several food processing segments, such as meat and poultry, beverages, bakery, grains and in the production of processed foods. In these and other industries, lubricants are used throughout the entire food handling and processing cycle in equipment for washing, separating, handling, treating, filling and packaging. Food processing machinery ranges from standardized equipment such as mixers, gears, piping, pumps, hydraulic systems, chains and tracks to highly customized systems that are often found in more complex processing operations. Gear oils, belt oils, hydraulic fluids and other food grade lubricants are typically used in situations where there are no physical barriers to prevent cross contamination.

Regulations and Certifications for Food Grade Lubricants

Food grade lubricants are subjected to government regulations in several countries, including Brazil, the United States and countries in Europe. In addition to regulations, there are good market practices that add some requirements.

NSF International is an independent, non-profit global organization based in the United States that facilitates standards and protocol development, tests and certifies products for the food, water and consumer goods industries to minimize adverse health effects.

The certifications provided by NSF are recognized and accepted worldwide as they comply with the main hygiene requirements. After its creation, the NSF organized existing guidelines and established a voluntary registration process to evaluate food grade lubricants and other product categories related to food processing.

Within the NSF registration process, the composition of the product is evaluated against a set of toxicological and labeling criteria, based on the intended application of the product. The categories established for Lubricants are:

H1 – Lubricants with incidental food contact:
Formulations permitted for use as lubricants where there is the possibility of incidental food contact and must comply with 21 CFR § 178.3570 standard and other sections referenced therein.
H2 – Non-food contact lubricants:
Classification used for products applied to equipment parts where there is no possibility of the lubricant or the lubricated part coming into contact with food products. Unlike category H1, for H2 there is no specific list of substances that can be used.
H3 – Soluble oils:
Category for products that are used to prevent rust on hooks, carts, and similar equipment. After the oil treatment, the parts of the equipment that come into contact with food must be cleaned before being put back into operation. Products can be part of any of the groups below:
● Edible oils (corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil) in accordance with 21 CFR §172.860;
● Mineral oil in accordance with 21 CFR §172.878;
● GRAS Substances (Generally Recognized As Safe) complying with 21 CFR parts 182 (multipurpose only) or 184.
HX-1, HX-2 and HX-3: (Ingredients for use in lubricants)
These are chemicals or mixtures that can be revised for use as ingredients in lubricants, considering the nature of the product in question and the category of lubricant where it will be used. The product to be registered must comply with the requirements for the formulation of the final lubricant. The categories are:
● HX-1: Ingredients for use in H1 lubricants;
● HX-2: Ingredients for use in H2 lubricants;
● HX-3: Ingredients for use in H3 lubricants;

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