At the heart of efficient production is properly lubricated machinery and equipment. Used in every industry, lubrication helps reduce downtime and keeping things running smoothly. Particularly important in the food and beverage industry, it’s worrying how many manufacturers haven’t integrated the all-important food-grade lubricants instead of the traditional oils and greases appropriate for other sectors.
Companies that deal with processing not just food and beverages but also medication must value the safety of their customers above all else. Sanitation and hygiene standards must be met from start to finish of the production line. Using lubrication helps minimise general wear and tear of the machinery — grinders, conveyors, ovens, motors, mixers, labelling, and packaging machines.
In this article, we’ll explore why using food-grade grease is incredibly important, and what you’re otherwise putting into your bodies.
Dangers of cross-contamination
Lubrication hasn’t always been viewed with such weight in Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point’s (HACCP) equipment risk assessment. However, focus around safety of lubrication is rising. It’s possible that a growing concern around a healthy diet and demanding to know exactly what we’re consuming is driving the attention on food-grade grease. Although the complicated machinery today’s manufacturers use is designed to have minimal to zero contact with food and beverage, it cannot be guaranteed.
In 2002, from 2nd January to 28th June, 1,100 tonnes of milk powder had been contaminated by up to 0.75 litres of lubricating oil that contained particles of iron. The contamination was brought to attention when a customer in Thailand noticed that the milk powder was discoloured — upon investigation, it was reported that a worn-out gearbox allowed oil to leak into the product. Thankfully, no health risks occurred, but the business lost around $6.5 million and faced multiple lawsuits for losses from contracts with other companies. Not only putting customers at risk, this seriously damaged the manufacturer’s reputation, consumer trust, and profits.
In 1998, Smithfield Packing Co. recalled 490,877 pounds of smoked boneless hams after at least three customers complained of a bad taste and a burning in the throat for up to three hours after being contaminated with gear lubricant. Investigation revealed that a leak had caused the contamination, and the non-food grade lubricant was not safe for incidental contact with food.
Back in 2002, Stoke-on-Trent confirmed that Heinz baby food had been contaminated with a mineral oil lubricant that was toxic after a mother complained to environmental health officials that the product smelled of tar. It was concluded that the baby food was contaminated from the manufacturing process.
Risk of allergens
A key concern and major challenge that food and beverage manufacturers face is eliminating the risk of allergens contaminating products. Food grade lubricants have to follow strict rules about traceability and control under ISO 21469, which allows suppliers to guarantee the presence or absence of ingredients that are handled in extremely sanitary conditions. Using non-food grade grease doesn’t provide this guarantee, putting the customer at risk, particularly if it could be a fatal allergy.
Triphenyl phosphate is one example of a non-food grade lubricant. It is a chemical that has been reported to give allergic reactions, including adverse health effects in tests on laboratory animals. This chemical is also utilised as a plasticiser and fire retardant — how does this sound compared to lubrication designed for consumption?
Protecting against harmful microbes
Microbes can cause viruses, flu, and bacterial infections. Today’s food-grade lubricants help prevent infections by including special additives that stop microbes growing and spreading. This is an important consideration as manufacturing machinery comes in contact with steam and moisture, as well as being difficult to keep clean.
In late December 2019, hard boiled eggs were recalled due to being contaminated with listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can be fatal to young children, the ill, and the elderly. It can even cause miscarriages and stillbirths in pregnant women. There were several reported hospitalisations and even a death. Investigations are being taken place to determine where in the production line the eggs were contaminated.
With increasing concerns over our health and safety, it’s certainly apparent why food-grade lubrication is so important. Follow this guide to check which lubrications are best for your manufacturing process.