Food-safe lubricants: Avoiding recalls
24 July 2018
Chris Johnson examines a common cause of recalls in the food industry — chemical contamination, and provides advice on choosing the correct food-grade lubricant for food processing applications, and the potential dangers of taking shortcuts
Some of the biggest supermarkets in the UK have removed dozens of frozen items from their shelves due to a recent deadly outbreak of listeria, costing the market thousands in recalls. But it’s not just bacteria that poses a risk. Here, Chris Johnson, managing director of food grade bearing supplier SMB Bearings, explains the importance of food safe lubricants in food processing equipment.
Product recalls cost food and drink manufacturers $10m in direct costs
On average, product recalls cost food and drink manufacturers $10 million in direct costs. This does not include immeasurable losses, such as those caused by delayed orders, inventory losses and any profit reduction caused by reputational damage. Following a recall, manufacturers are required to assemble a crisis team, remove the product from the shelves, investigate the cause and, of course, manage the media.
The recent listeria outbreak was identified by the European Food Safety Authority. Due to the high-risk nature of listeria, consumers were advised to return the products to retailers immediately, while the factories affected halted production.
However, not all recalls are caused by breaches in health and safety in processing. In fact, some manufacturers may be entirely unaware they are putting their consumers at risk through chemical contamination.
Unwanted contact with unsafe lubricants and greases used in machinery
According to data from Australia’s Food Standards Agency, chemical contaminants and biotoxins accounted for 55 per cent of product recalls between 2008 and 2017. A potential cause of this contamination is due to unwanted contact with unsafe lubricants and greases used in machinery.
Back in 2000, tests of a Heinz baby food product revealed it contained a toxic substance. Further tests clarified that the food had encountered a mineral oil lubricant during the manufacturing process. But, this was almost two decades ago, and a lot has changed regarding regulations and legal requirements since then.
Lubricants used in food processing machinery must be formulated to be innocuous in taste and odour, and should not pose any kind of health risk to consumers should contamination occur.
Most lubricant manufacturers abide by rules set by the United States
Currently, though, there are no pan-European regulations for the formulation of lubricants use in food-processing facilities. However, most lubricant manufacturers abide by rules set by the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which lists acceptable lubricant components in its Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
In fact, there are now classifications of different food-grade lubricants, including the H1 and H2 standards set by the public health and safety organisation, NSF International.
H1 lubricants describe greases used in applications where accidental food contact may occur but would be limited to a trace amount. This is the classification usually referred to when opting for a ‘food-grade’ grease. These lubricants can only contain certain bases and thickeners that are predefined by the FDA’s regulations.
H2 lubricants, on the other hand, can be used in a food-processing facility if there is no possibility of contact with a food product. While these lubricants should not encounter a consumable product, their ingredients are still heavily restricted by the industry. These lubricants cannot contain any carcinogens, mineral acids or intentionally heavy metals.
Choosing a H1 or H2 lubricant will depend on the application. For example, if the lubrication will be used in a sealed bearing, which should have no direct contact with food, a H2 lubricant could suffice.
In fact, SMB Bearings provides a relubrication service to clean and refill bearings for the food and beverage industry to ensure they contains the right grease for the job. Stainless steel ball bearings, for example, can be supplied with either H1 or H2 non-toxic lubricants, on request.
Lubricant will need to withstand the ingress of water and steam cleaning
Food manufacturing can create a harsh environment for lubricants and greases, and this should also be considered when choosing H1 or H2 lubricants. The lubricant will need to withstand the ingress of water and steam cleaning, not to mention the cleaning chemicals that are often used in food manufacturing. In these instances, it is advisable to speak to an expert in food grade bearings and lubricants, before simply opting for a H1 grease.
Bearings may seem like a small consideration when you consider the mass issue of recent food recalls, but the message is clear. When manufacturing food and beverages, every component in the facility should be chosen to create a risk-free manufacturing environment. This includes the smallest parts, including every bearing and its lubricant.
Product recalls are estimated to cost $10 million in direct costs. While not all product recalls can be anticipated or avoided, investing in food-safe lubricant for your machinery and bearings is a small price to pay to avoid the potential financial turmoil of product contamination.
Author: Chris Johnson, managing director, SMB Bearingshttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/2018/07/24/food-safe-lubricants-avoiding-recalls/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/a-af-1024x673.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/a-af-300x300.jpgChemchemical,food,UK