03 October 2018

How food safe are your food grade lubricants?

Our Food expert Andy Howard explains what defines a food grade lubricant?

Knowing your NSF category codes

Most food manufacturers (and indeed auditors) have limited knowledge of food grade lubricants. They are aware that they need to use food grade lubricants in areas where contamination of their food product is possible by a lubricant. However, if you are using non-food grade lubricants in a food processing facility then you must be able to prove, without doubt, that there is no risk of a non-food grade lubricant being used in a potential contamination area.

The above is nice and straightforward; however, the real challenge comes when you want to understand what defines a food grade lubricant. A food grade lubricant has had its recipe checked and approved by NSF (the National Sanitation Foundation) and is categorised to be compliant with one or more of the following categories. All registered food grade lubricants must display the NSF logo, the NSF Category code/s that the lubricant complies with and the NSF certification number.

The following list highlights all the NSF category codes which can be related to products which may be manufactured by a lubrication manufacturer:

3H: This is used for release agents. When dual registered as NSF 3H and NSF H1 then a lubricant can be used as a direct food contact lubricant.

H1: ‘Lubricants, General – incidental contact’. This is for lubricants which can be used in and around food processing areas where incidental food contact can be tolerated. Only 10PPM contamination is allowable from an NSF H1 lubricant onto a foodstuff.

H2: ‘Lubricants, General – no possibility of food contact’. This is for lubricants which can be used in a food processing area providing there can be no contact with the food. This category is NOT FOODSAFE although it can be used by lubricant manufacturers to enable them to display the NSF ‘tick mark’ logo on their products so that they appear to be food safe

HT1: This is used for heat transfer oils with incidental food contact.

K1: ‘Solvent cleaners, Non-processing area products’. This is used for cleaning and/or degreasing solvents for use in non-processing areas. This category is NOT suitable for use in processing areas

K2: ‘Solvent cleaners, Electronic instrument cleaners’. This is used for solvents for cleaning electronic instruments and devices. This category is suitable for use in processing areas

K3: This is used for adhesives or glue removers. This category is suitable for use in processing areas (wash off with detergent & rinse with potable water)

A1: ‘Cleaning products, General cleaners’. This is used for general cleaning compounds. This category is suitable for use in and around processing areas (rinse with potable water)

A7: ‘Cleaning products, Metal polishes – non-food contact’. This category is suitable for use in and around processing areas on non-food contact surfaces

A major misconception in the food industry is that an NSF H1 lubricant ensures the safety and integrity of your food products. It must be strongly noted that NSF H1 lubricants are only safe for INCIDENTAL food contact (with a maximum allowable level of 10PPM contamination of the lubricant onto a foodstuff). This leaves a risk that if an NSF H1 registered lubricant is coming into contact with your foodstuff you may need to carry out a product recall.

There is a solution, however. For areas where the lubricant either does, or is likely to, come into direct contact with a foodstuff then a direct food contact lubricant is required. A direct contact lubricant is one which has both NSF H1 & NSF 3H dual registration (where NSF 3H is for a release agent with direct food contact). There is no maximum allowable contamination limit with a direct food contact lubricant and a foodstuff, however it must be noted that a lubricant is not an ingredient and should still be managed to avoid tainting your foodstuff. ROCOL manufacture a range of direct food grade lubricants (NSF H1 and NSF 3H dual registered) under the brand name PUROL®.

Areas that need to be using direct food contact lubricants include (but are not limited to) hanger bearings in screw conveyors (augers), assembly grease for depositors, mincers and general food processing equipment and for lubrication directly above the food line.

Another aspect that auditors are now starting to understand and request evidence of is proof that the food grade lubricants being used are actually food grade. The only way that this can be proven is if the manufacturer of the food grade lubricants is ISO 21469 approved. ISO 21469 ”specifies hygiene requirements for the formulation, manufacture, use and handling of lubricants”*, providing assurance of suitability for use in the food industry. This involves annual auditing of the lubricant manufacturers manufacturing plant, quality systems and registration documents. ISO 21469 proves that the food safe lubricants are being manufactured in accordance with the recipes that have been registered and approved by NSF and that they are manufactured in a clean and hygienic manner.

And finally, when you have the correct level of food safety for your lubricants in a standard traditional grease gun there is no way of knowing what grease has actually been loaded into the grease gun.

This is where the Lubeshuttle® grease gun and grease cartridge system from Mato comes into play. ROCOL® sell particular food safe greases filled into Lubeshuttle cartridges and we print the cartridge labels so that when loaded into the grease gun the name of the grease, the NSF category code/s and registration number are visible at all times. This makes the ROCOL and Lubeshuttle® grease gun system combination the best practice application method for grease in the food industry. It is in fact the only fully auditable grease application system that does not require a clear plastic bodied grease gun (which then has to be included to the factory hard plastic log and inspected for damage on a regular basis).

*from the abstract of the ISO 21469:2006 Standard

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