Operations: Safety and sustainability improvements with food-grade lubricants
September 15, 2009
With line speeds in excess of 2,000 cans or bottles a minute, every piece of equipment in a beverage manufacturing line requires lubrication for speed, performance and endurance. Lubricants enhance productivity and cost efficiencies by offering equipment protection through dissipating heat, providing barriers to friction and allowing smooth movement of parts.
As part of beverage processing, lubricants also must adhere to food safety practices. Food-grade lubricants are critical on pieces of equipment such as fillers and seamers, which need lubrication to operate quickly and also are critical contact points between machinery and open containers.
“The idea behind food-grade lubricants comes from the reduction of product contamination risk,” says Phillip Thonhauser, chief executive officer of Thonhauser, which has U.S. offices in Cincinnati. “Any surface that has a nonfood-grade lubricant on it could be a possible harm to the customer, and then you have trouble with a possible recall. You could harm your brand eventually, so food-grade lubricants support brand assurance.”
Food-grade lubricants normally are mineral oils or are manufactured from vegetable oils. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires the use of food-grade lubricants as part of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) program. Food-grade lubricants are allowed incidental contact with products below the FDA-mandated level of 10 parts per million. The FDA has a zero tolerance for contamination by nonfood-grade lubrications.
NSF International registers food-grade lubricants as H1 food-grade, and publishes a list of H1 certified nonfood compounds. NSF classifies lubricants with no possibility of contacting a beverage or food product as H2 lubricants.
Many companies have made efforts to remove all nonfood-grade lubricants from their facilities.
“Use of a 100 percent H1 food-grade lubricants program eliminates lubricants and lubrication as potential chemical hazards in HACCP programs,” says Jim Girard, vice president and chief marketing officer at Lubriplate Lubricants Co., Newark, N.J.
“Although many companies still adhere to the ‘H1 above the line, H2 below the line’ concept, Klüber advocates using NSF registered H1 lubricants throughout beverage facilities to minimize the risk of an H2 product being applied in an area of the plant where there may be incidental contact with the beverage,” adds Kim Eldridge, North American market manager for food and beverage at Klüber Lubrication, Londonderry, N.H. “We know that mistakes can happen, and by eliminating the variable of non-H1 products in the plant, we help support food safety practices.”
Historically, food-grade lubricants were not as cost effective, and a misconception existed that performance was sacrificed with the use of food-grade lubricants instead of industrial lubricants. Recent innovations have placed food-grade lubricants on the same level or higher than nonfood-grade lubricants.
“Today, we have lubricants available at the same level of friction compared to the old ones that were not as cost effective,” Thonhauser says.
Aiding green initiatives
Supporting sustainable practices starts with the chemistry makeup of the lubricant. Choosing the right base oils and thickener systems can dramatically increase the life of a lubricant. In addition, the use of high-performance synthetic lubricants allows companies to use a “less is more” approach to lubrication, Eldridge says.
“By reducing the amount of lubricant coming into a facility, we are also reducing the waste generated by those products,” she explains. “Additionally, an optimized lubricant in a gear box, for example, can increase the efficiency of the box and decrease the energy consumption. It all starts with lubricant selection.”
Some industrial lubricants are formulated with additives that would require further treatment in the wastewater stream before discharge, Thonhauser says. Food-grade are more sustainable by being more biological, he says.
Many food-grade lubricants are also made from renewable plant-based sources, which use less petroleum-based oils. This year, U.S. Industrial Lubricants, Cincinnati, released Apollo FG Factory Mutual Approved Fire Resistant Food Grade hydraulic oil, which is sourced from plants.
Thonhauser, which works predominately with track treatment lubrication, offers a lubrication solution for reducing water. “A lubricant, which is not diluted anymore with water, provides a tremendous contribution to water reduction,” Thonhauser says. “Our application for track lubrication can eliminate up to a million gallons of water a year.” BI