article

Understanding the needs, meeting the challenge

Posted: 3 May 2005 | Mandy Drabwell, Commissioning Editor, New Food | No comments yet

Pressure from consumers has forced manufacturers to take greater care and be even more accountable for their products. This requires assurance at every level of the supply chain and particularly within the factory. Mandy Drabwell investigates how food grade lubricant manufacturers are playing their part in meeting the challenge.

All food and beverage processing equipment requires lubrication in order to work reliably and effectively and should be designed in such a way that contamination of food product by lubricants is kept to an absolute minimum. However, while equipment suppliers make every effort to prevent such contamination, incidental contact can occur – especially when maintenance is carried out or when technical failures occur. It is essential, in the event of such circumstances, that the lubricant will not impart taste or odour, or cause harm when consumed. This can only be ensured through the use of food grade lubricants.

Pressure from consumers has forced manufacturers to take greater care and be even more accountable for their products. This requires assurance at every level of the supply chain and particularly within the factory. Mandy Drabwell investigates how food grade lubricant manufacturers are playing their part in meeting the challenge. All food and beverage processing equipment requires lubrication in order to work reliably and effectively and should be designed in such a way that contamination of food product by lubricants is kept to an absolute minimum. However, while equipment suppliers make every effort to prevent such contamination, incidental contact can occur – especially when maintenance is carried out or when technical failures occur. It is essential, in the event of such circumstances, that the lubricant will not impart taste or odour, or cause harm when consumed. This can only be ensured through the use of food grade lubricants.

Pressure from consumers has forced manufacturers to take greater care and be even more accountable for their products. This requires assurance at every level of the supply chain and particularly within the factory. Mandy Drabwell investigates how food grade lubricant manufacturers are playing their part in meeting the challenge.

All food and beverage processing equipment requires lubrication in order to work reliably and effectively and should be designed in such a way that contamination of food product by lubricants is kept to an absolute minimum. However, while equipment suppliers make every effort to prevent such contamination, incidental contact can occur – especially when maintenance is carried out or when technical failures occur. It is essential, in the event of such circumstances, that the lubricant will not impart taste or odour, or cause harm when consumed. This can only be ensured through the use of food grade lubricants.

In 1998 NSF International [a third party organization that develops standards to ensure products that come into contact with food, water and air are safe] adopted the Nonfood Compounds Registration Program (developed by the USDA who provided a standard for incidental food contact lubricants – H1) which gave suppliers an opportunity to have their products independently certified and registered. Customers can view this list of H1 certified lubricants on the NSF Web site (www.nsf.org/usda) as well as the HX-1 category (introduced in 2003) for food grade lubricant components and ingredients.1 This offers both assurance for manufacturers and endorsement of suppliers.

Given this almost fool-proof guard against possible product contamination coupled with an easy-to-use reference scheme, it seems logical that all manufacturers would choose food grade over non food grade lubricants. However, this has not proven to be the case. Despite many food and beverage manufacturers leading the way in utilising H1 fluids, there still exist companies who choose not to. Reasons range from cost to a lack of understanding, as well as the belief that lubrication contamination is simply not possible with their processing equipment. Traditionally, there has also been a discrepancy between lubricants prescribed by Original Equipment Manufacturers – often suggested purely for their lubricating properties and not their safety – and those recommended by the NSF.2 In these instances factories have perceived themselves as having to compromise between product safety and the effective and efficient operation of equipment.

Modern developments of food grade lubricants, however, mean that this concession to equipment performance is no longer necessary – nor is it an excuse! Fortunately for consumers, a large number of food processing industries (as well as processing equipment manufacturers) are aware of the risks of using non food grade lubricants and indeed the use of food grade lubricants in processing machinery is widely promoted – especially in New Food – but what exactly are the benefits and is the message getting through to food companies? New Food took up the challenge and put these questions to four leading food grade lubricant manufacturers.

Food grade lubricant formulations have evolved and become increasingly better adapted to individual processing needs in recent years. We asked our panel what they consider to be the greatest benefits of using food grade lubricants.

Modern day consumers are much better informed than those of ten years ago. Mainstream media scrutiny and sensationalism has helped create pressure on food manufacturers to pay greater attention to all aspects of food production that can impact on safety. For this reason, all members of our panel name “food safety” as a key advantage to using such lubricants. Diana Judge, Shell, considers this to be the primary benefit. “For food manufacturers this also means increased protection of their brand and reputation” – as a safe product is a safe brand.

An extension of this is illustrated by Bill Hopkins, Rocol who points out “since the types of ingredients used are closely monitored, assurance can be given regarding nut free, no GM materials, no animal derived materials etc.” Hence, the benefit is to the consumer, which ultimately benefits the manufacturer.

Henry Sapiano, R&D Product Development Manager at Petro-Canada adds that exact benefits are dependent upon the precise fluid that is used: “What makes some lubricants better than others is the right combination and levels of additives. This leads to lubricant performance that keeps the customer’s equipment running efficiently.” Longer oil life and lower maintenance costs are further advantages of some synthetics, according to Judge.

However, this is where the general consensus of our panel ends. When asked how the use of food grade lubricants in processing plants has changed in the last five years, responses are polarised. The view from the United States is that the majority of food manufacturers don’t use any food grade lubricants (FGL) at all. Diana Judge informs us that independent research by Kline & Company puts this figure at 60 per cent and surmises that “there are many food manufacturers who continue to use non-food grade lubricants in applications where lubricants can come into contact with food”. Bill Hopkins, Rocol, however, asserts that “the use of FGLs is now considered by many food manufacturers as standard practice. A few years ago, the use of FGLs was seen as a compromise in performance…today, this is not the case”. Mr Sapiano at Petro-Canada has even experienced over-caution from manufacturers. “More food processing plants are implementing HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) plans, resulting in an increased awareness that the use of FGLs fits well into their ongoing work to make their production as safe and efficient as possible. We have seen an increased demand for FGLs even in applications where one is not really necessary.”

Any increase in the number of food factories utilising food grade fluids has surely been helped by the registration service provided by NSF International “NSF stepped into the void left by the cessation of the USDA program and provides food manufacturers independent assurance that lubricants purchased…are formulated in accordance with the requirements of the US FDA regulations” states Judge. Ms Durel of Total Lubrifiants points out that “in the absence of European legislation on food-grade lubricants… suppliers refer to the NSF program (as well). NSF is now the main instrument for FGL suppliers.” Not only has NSF filled a void left by the former USDA program, but it has continued to improve the system – making it an invaluable tool for FGL suppliers and food manufactures alike. Bill Hopkins describes them as “more proactive than the old USDA. There is more ‘brand awareness’ of the NSF and what it stands for.” This immediate association of the ‘tick mark’ with FGLs makes registration with NSF “a necessary requirement” for Henry Sapiano.

High impact?

While there is no evidence to support the notion that NSF registration directly impacts the number of food grade lubricant users, Bill Hopkins asserts that “the number of customers using FGLs is higher than ever.” However, he attributes the reason to “recent food scares bringing the attention of people to food processing methods and general practices within the industry.” Hopkins takes a hard line with manufacturers and considers there is “no excuse for using a lubricant that is not food grade.”

However, as Agathe Durel points out, “there is still no legislation (in Europe) to oblige the food industries to use FGLs” and, as NSF remains a voluntary program, “only the use of the HACCP system or its equivalent is mandatory”. This seems to be one factor compelling manufacturers: “in their quality assurance, use of NSF-registered lubricants is additional proof that they are manufacturing their products in compliance with HACCP requirements.” notes Durel.

All members of the panel seem to agree that both HACCP and the NSF have, in combination, contributed to a better general awareness of processing safety issues – specifically, as Sapiano underlines, “that there are ways to reduce the risk of food contamination.” But is awareness sufficient?

A new scheme

In October 2003 and April 2004 the NSF Steering Committee and Working Group, respectively, discussed an industry proposal to develop an optional certification program for H1 lubricants3. The draft proposal (which can be viewed at www.nsfwhitebook.org) was created with the aim of enhancing customer reassurance of a food grade lubricant’s quality, by carrying out periodic sample assay and formulation reviews as part of product certification.

When the panel was asked for their views on this proposal, responses were positive. Diana Judge expressed Shell’s support for any initiative that would “provide additional reassurance to end users about the quality of food grade lubricants”. There seemed a general concern, however, that further information was required from customers before a suitable certification program could be developed. Henry Sapiano told us that “development of a survey was suggested, to improve customers’ understanding of food grade lubricant use and to determine what issues the end customer has encountered in their equipment maintenance related to lubrication.”

In other words, only by properly understanding the needs of the customer can a suitable and effective program be formulated.

References

  1. New Food, Issue 1 2004, p72
  2. New Food, Issue 4 2003, p 67
  3. New Food, Issue 1 2005, p46

Related topics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.