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 auditors know that using food grade lubricants is essential in processes where there is a potential risk of contamination. However, the real challenge comes when you want to understand what defines a food grade lubricant. NSF International is an independent body that assesses non-food compounds for different categories of use in food processing environments. There are two NSF categories that relate to lubricants. NSF audits and certifies to the ISO 21469 standard for ensuring that registered lubricants are manufactured to a suitable standard.

A food grade lubricant has had its recipe registered with NSF in particular categories of use and has a formulation that meets the requirements of that category. All registered food grade lubricants must display the NSF logo, the NSF Category code/s for which the lubricant is registered and the NSF registration 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. Release agents can be used in contact with food within the limits described in the relevant regulations, e.g. FDA 21 CFR 172:878 for white oils.

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. HACCP programs will need to establish whether or not contact is ‘incidental’ within the limits prescribed by regulations.

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 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 and there are concentration limits that define ‘incidental’ for different materials. 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.

Some materials can be registered as both 3H as a release agent and H1 as a lubricant for incidental contact applications. ROCOL manufactures a range of direct food grade lubricants (NSF H1 and NSF 3H dual registered) under the brand name PUROL®.

The areas where benefits can be seen using a dual-registered NSF H1 and 3H material can 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. ISO 21469 is a quality standard that ”specifies hygiene requirements for the formulation, manufacture, use and handling of lubricants”*, providing assurance of suitability for use in the food industry. This involves external auditing of the lubricant manufacturer’s 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 with 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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