Recalls of food and beverage products due to contamination concerns have risen significantly over the last decade. Considering that recalled products can be devastating to a brand and potentially harmful to consumers, it is not surprising that the U.S. Food Processing 2008 Annual Manufacturing Trends Survey indicated that food and beverage processors’ No. 1 concern is food safety, more so than energy, labor issues or environmental concerns.

This trend extends far beyond the United States, impacting regions all around the world. In today’s current global economic climate, food and beverage processors are under more pressure than ever to ensure the safety of their products, protect their brand reputation, enhance their company’s productivity and expand profit margins in the face of tightening economic times.

One of the important areas that food and beverage processors need to focus on to help achieve a safe and hygienic processing environment is lubrication. Using lubricants that are suitable for use in food machinery where incidental food contact may occur – NSF H1 or HT-1 registered – will not only help to minimize the potential for product recalls and maintain brand integrity, but can also enhance equipment performance thanks to advancements in lubricant chemistries.

Food and beverage processing plants often have a wide variety of machinery, and converting all of them to an NSF H1 or HT-1 registered lubricant can be an overwhelming task. This article outlines tips for plant managers and maintenance professionals to help streamline and simplify the conversion process within their own quality and risk management systems, such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). By itemizing your equipment, properly storing and handling the lubricant inventory, converting the equipment, and establishing a proactive oil analysis program, companies will not have to compromise production goals for incorporating and improving its food quality initiatives.

Itemize your equipment
For a lubricant to achieve product registration from the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) for use in a food or beverage processing equipment, lubricant manufacturers need to submit product formulations and labels to be reviewed by a certified NSF toxicologist. The components used in the lubricant are compared against regulatory requirements including NSF’s Registration Guidelines for Proprietary Substances and Non-food Compounds and 21 CFR. Based on the toxicologists’ analysis, a lubricant can be registered as H1, H2, H3, HT-1 or HT-2.

NSF H1 registered lubricants are formulated with base oils and components that comply with FDA 178.3570 and are suitable for applications in machinery that could potentially have “incidental contact” with the food or beverage being manufactured. Such compounds may be used on food processing equipment as a protective anti-rust film, as a release agent on gaskets or seals of tank closures, and as a lubricant for machine parts and equipment in locations where there is potential exposure of the lubricated part to food. Equipment such as baking chains, conveyors and mixers, depending on risk of exposure, may require the use of H1 registered lubricants. NSF H2 registered lubricants can be used in machinery in a food and beverage processing facility where there is no possibility that the lubricant or lubricated part will come in direct or incidental contact with food. Such applications of an H2 registered lubricant can include fork lift trucks and transportation equipment that do not come in contact with the food/beverage product or components and where cross-contamination with H1 registered lubricants can be avoided.

NSF H3 registered lubricants are soluble oils that are used for rust prevention on trolleys and similar equipment; they must be removed before any contact between food and equipment.

NSF HT-1 registration is specifically reserved for heat transfer oils that may have incidental food contact. As an example, there may be a potential risk that a heat transfer oil in a heating jacket could come in contact with vegetable oil used to cook chips, leading to incidental contact between oil and food. NSF HT-2 registered products should only be used in heat transfer applications where there is no chance of the lubricant or the lubricated machinery components coming into contact with food.

It is important for plant managers and maintenance professionals to itemize each piece of equipment and every application and accurately assess the risk of food contamination caused potentially by the lubricant according to local HACCP planning procedures. Upon completion, maintenance professionals should then review the list with their lubricant manufacturer or lubricants distributor to identify opportunities to select the correct lubricant, oils and greases, and also to potentially consolidate the number of necessary products and accurately access volume.

By minimizing the number of lubricants used and only using NSF H1 and HT-1 registered lubricants, plant managers and maintenance professionals can optimize food safety initiatives, expedite the purchasing process, simplify maintenance procedures and minimize the opportunity of improperly lubricating equipment.

Properly Store and Handle Your New Lubricants
Following the proper storage and handling procedures for NSF H1 and HT-1 registered lubricants can help maintain the integrity of the product’s formulation so it can provide the anticipated performance characteristics when it’s applied to a piece of equipment.

First, maintenance professionals and plant managers should thoroughly examine the lubricants upon delivery. New packaging should not be damaged, especially the package seal. Any damage to the seal could indicate that the lubricant has been potentially contaminated and should not be used.

NSF HT and HT-1 registered lubricants should ideally be stored inside in a temperature-controlled (+5 to +25 degrees Celsius), dry storage room and segregated from non-NSF H1 and HT-1 registered products. Each product should be properly labeled and new batches of product should not be topped off with the remainder of lubricant from another batch. It is preferred that maintenance professionals opt for drums of product to maintain stock rotation and throughput.

When dispensing the product, maintenance professionals should use containers clearly marked for the appropriate NSF H1 and HT-1 registered product to avoid any contamination and avoid the need to replace unused oil. Additionally, the use of personal protective equipment is recommended to avoid any unnecessary contact.

As for disposal, food and beverage processors should take all responsible care to dispose of lubricant-related waste properly and ensure that it is disposed of in an approved manner by an authorized company.

Converting the equipment to NSF H1 and HT-1 registered lubricants
There are several advisory steps that need to be followed to convert a non-NSF H1 or HT-1 registered lubricant in a piece of equipment to a NSF H1 or HT-1 registered lubricant. Each stage should be clearly documented according to HACCP planning and may vary according to the complexity of the individual equipment and maintenance procedures.

Step 1. Operate the system under normal conditions until stabilized operating temperature is reached.
Step 2. Drain as much oil from the system as possible. Check filters, reservoirs, etc., while the oil is still warm. Remove solid contaminants.
Step 3. Replace filters.
Step 4. Change the system with sufficient fresh NSF H1 or HT-1 registered oil to ensure full circulation.
Step 5. Operate the system under normal condition for a minimum of one hour. If the flushing fluid shows signs of contamination from excessive solid or water contamination, through visual or used oil analysis inspection, then repeat Steps 2-5.
Step 6. Fill the system with recommended NSF H1 or HT-1 registered lubricant. Assume normal operation and monitor filters.
Step 7. Clearly label all machinery equipment with the type of lubricant that should be used.

It is recommended to flush gearbox and hydraulic systems when converting from conventional mineral oil to NSF H1 registered lubricants. For systems containing large complicated internal structures, systems with heavily aged lubricants or lubricants with the presence of significant levels of unwanted heavy metals, additional flushing and oil analysis may be required to achieve adequate cleanliness. This will help ensure the integrity of the system and the lubricant.

Establish an effective oil analysis program
Once the equipment is running with the new NSF H1 or HT-1 registered product, it is imperative for maintenance professionals to monitor its performance to ensure the conversion was done properly. This helps to ensure lubrication performance and system integrity according to HACCP planning. One of the most comprehensive ways to monitor the condition and performance of an oil is through a used oil analysis program. This type of condition-based monitoring provides maintenance professionals and plant managers with insight about the condition of the oil as well as the components of the equipment and its lubrication. Using this data, informed decisions can be made about the remaining life of the lubricant. In addition, the data can give valuable information about the condition of the equipment and can be used to address equipment issues before they lead to unscheduled downtime. Applications particularly suitable for a used oil analysis program are hydraulic and gear box equipment, as well as heat transfer systems.

Typically, food and beverage processing companies work with a trusted oil analysis provider and they can help provide advice on oil analysis frequency.

Food Quality First
Yes, converting an entire food or beverage processing facility to NSF H1 and HT-1 registered lubricants can be a large undertaking. However, by following the tips outlined in this article, plant managers and maintenance professionals will be better able to turn it into a manageable task within their local risk management systems while helping their company optimize production, promote food quality, and ensure the brand integrity of its products.

About the author:

Peter Bird is a marketing advisor for food industry machinery lubricants at ExxonMobil Lubricants & Specialties. For more information, visit www.mobilindustrial.com.