Food-safe lubricants prevent contamination

The use of ‘food-safe’ lubricants and bearings are helping to avoid the problems of product recalls that result from contamination problems with food processing equipment, as Chris Johnson, managing director of food grade bearing supplier SMB Bearings explains.

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, Johnson reports. But, currently, there are no pan-European regulations for the formulation of lubricants used in food processing facilities, he adds. However, most lubricant manufacturers abide by rules set by the US 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 public health and safety organisation, NSF International.

H1 lubricants describe greases that can be 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 pre-defined 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 must not contain any carcinogens, mineral acids or intentional heavy metals.

“Choosing a H1 or H2 lubricant will depend on the application,” says Johnson. “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.”

More information from: SMB Bearings, Unit 15 Ventura Business Park, Broadshires Way, Carterton, Oxfordshire OX18 1AD, UK. Tel: 44 1993 842555. Website: