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Food Grade Lubricants

Food safety is a very important topic and manufacturers of drug, food, and drink highly rate safety and health. It is imperative that standards of hygiene and cleanliness are maintained, whether it is in the operating room in hospitals, or on the floor inside a restaurant. However, when we talk about production equipment there is one thing that keeps everything on track, and that is lubrication. All industries must deal with lubricant maintenance and leakages because lubricants will never discriminate against any material they mix with.

That is why pharmaceutical and food-processing industries have had to face the difficult challenge of finding the right lubricant for this job. We are going to discuss food grade lubricants here, and reflect on the future, current, and previous standards of lubrication used in the food-processing industry. So, here is everything that you need to know about food grade lubricants.

What is a Food-Grade Lubricant?

All lubricants are created equal, but there is something different about food-grade lubricants even though they have the same function. The lubricant is meant to protect against oxidation, corrosion, friction, wear, dissipate heat, offer a sealing effect, and be compatible with sealing materials, including rubber. There are various applications in the drugs and food industry, which state that lubricants must show neutral reactions to elastomers and plastics, dissolve sugars, and protect from degradation for water, chemicals, and food products.

The food-grade lubricant must also meet all regulations for health and safety, have international approval, and be odorless and tasteless. These oils will be placed in environments that have a lot of contaminants, which means they must be great at protecting against the growth of fungi, yeast, bacteria, and other microorganisms.

Food-Grade Categories

Food grade lubricants come with different food grade categories, which have been assigned by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These designations are given as H1, H2, and H3 and any new lubricant must gain registration and approval from these categories to qualify. The food grade categories are broken down as follows:

  • H1 lubricants

  • These food grade lubricants are mainly used in environments that require food processing where contact with food is possible.

  • H2 lubricants

  • These food grade lubricants are mainly used on machine parts and equipment, in places where contact isn’t possible.

  • H3 lubricants

These food grade lubricants are mainly edible oils, which are used to prevent rust on equipment like trolleys, and hooks.

Choosing where there is going to be possible contact is difficult, which is why most manufacturers prefer going with H1 and H2 lubricants, since they offer more safety.

Approval and Compliance

The USDA was responsible for compliance and approval, because it is recognized internationally as an authority on safety issues for consumers in the food-processing industry. The agency was tasked with inspecting poultry and meat facilities, and its inspections were also implemented by retail food operations and fisheries.

Any lubricant manufacturer that wants approval and compliance from the USDA must prove that the ingredients in the lubricant are all substances that are allowed. These are known as allowable substances, which are those that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the United States has listed, after meeting the Guidelines of Security Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 21, §178.3570. Lubricant testing isn’t part of this, and approval will mainly be given after reviewing the ingredients of the formula.

The Future of Food-Grade Approval

The USDA has recognized food grade lubricants H1 and H2 as safe for food and drug industries, and that is why most manufacturers of lubricants try to get approval like the H1 and H2 categories. There was a new food grade lubricant manufactured, which meant that a new standard for food grade approval was created, known as, DIN V 0010517, 2000-08.

DIN also known as the German Institute for Standardization, submitted this new standard to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in Geneva. There are still reports that it will a few years before the approval for a new international standard is made.

After the USDA stopped its inspections, this led to the rise of the National Sanitation Foundation (SNF), which is an organization committed to protecting the environment, and towards public health and safety as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) has given the designation of Collaborating Center to NSF for drinking water and food safety and treatment.

The NSF also adopted the new DIN Standard V 0010517, 2000-08, and made it as a guideline to review all food-grade lubrications. It submitted a new standard, known as, NSF 116-2000 to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which will cover all food categories.

NSF 116-2000 Draft Standard in Detail

The main reason this new food safety standard was established was to ensure that food grade lubricants that are used in storage, handling, packaging, and food processing have a higher standard. It helps validate the labelling and claims of manufacturer’s, but doesn’t encourage laboratory testing. This means that it doesn’t properly evaluate the performance of the product or accounts for the safety standards in processing facilities.

On the other hand, it clearly spells out requirements for all food grade lubricants used in corrosion protection and load transmission of machinery and equipment, heat transfer, and lubrication in processing and food manufacturing facilities. It only looks at food grade lubricants, which is why H1 and H3 are completely covered. The requirements of the new draft also include formulation and labelling, which mean that the following information must always be shared:

  • Name of product

  • Name of manufacturer

  • Category code and directions of use

All manufacturer references must be on the label, and should disclose all information related to the formulation of the product.

Formulation Guidelines

There is also set to be a lot of change related to the requirements for the formulation, which means that products shouldn’t have heavy metals. Ingredients like teratogens, mutagens, and carcinogens are also strictly prohibited in the formulation. Almost every lubricant is neutral in odor and taste, while it should easily withstand mechanical, thermal, biological, chemical, and temporal stresses without any degradation. The criteria for evaluating the formulation will look at 3 major parts, which include:

1. Food grade lubricants

2. Evaluation requirements

3. Ingredients

The food grade lubricants should also meet all requirements of the new standard, and comply with CFR Title 21 §178.3570, and sections 172.878 for mineral oils and 172.860 for vegetable oils.

The evaluation will need information related to the supplier and manufacturer, while it should the following information:

  • Product name

  • Identification of all constituents

  • The Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) number

  • The chemical ingredient names given by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) rules

  • Sources or suppliers of every ingredient

  • Previous product approval from a country or state regulatory authority

  • All suitable FDA regulatory references for every ingredient.

Confirmation by the USDA or FDA must also be given for ingredients.

What Does All This Mean?

All suppliers and manufacturers must comply with the new standards if they want their lubricants to be approved and categorized. The same requirements and categories are given by the USDA, but there are going to be some modifications related to safety and supply. The categories for food grade lubricants will remain the same, the only thing changing will be the compliance and approval regulations with the NSF draft standard. This also means that food and drug industries and lubricant manufacturers are maintaining the strictest standards when it comes to the health and safety of consumers.

What You Should Know Before Using Food Grade Lubricants

Food grade lubricants have never been able to match the performance of industrial lubricants throughout history. The only reason plant managers of food and beverages work with industrial grade

lubricants is to ensure they don’t damage their equipment. However, by using industrial grade lubricants they also risk contaminating their products through human error, leakage, or accidents.

There have been major changes introduced into the industry currently, which means has led to the development of a new food grade lubricant that can easily pass the exceptional performance of industrial grade lubrications. The new lubricants deliver outstanding performance, and have a longer service life as well. The performance of the new food grade lubricant has been tested out in gear, compressor, and hydraulic lubrication systems.

Food grade lubricants like United States Pharmacopeia (USP) grade white oils, didn’t have any additives, but they have been replaced with high-performance synthetic lubricants.

Why use food grade lubricants?

The biggest concern most plant managers have is contamination through lubrication on their equipment and machinery, which is why most plans still use food grade lubricants. Contamination can be small, as it can be a minor leak that causes wear and tear, or could also damage a product before it is shipped. Food grade lubrications are great for protecting equipment, and the FDA also permits contamination for food grade lubrications till 10 parts for every million. Most food packagers, bakeries, slaughterhouses, and food plants are still inspected regularly for confirming quality of food preparation by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Selecting a food grade lubricant

Previously, some OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) used to approve H-1 category food lubricants for use on equipment, because of the failure of white oil lubricants. This was before synthetic food grade lubricants were developed, and solved their problems. A lot of companies, including the BASF Corporation have created suitable synthetic food grade lubricants successfully, to be used in chains, bearings, gears, hydraulics, and compressors.

These new H-1 food grade lubricants have changed the dynamics of the industry, because they work just like industrial grade lubricants, when it comes to performance. These technical functions include:

  • Stopping microorganisms like fungi and bacteria from growing

  • Protection against oxidation and corrosion

  • Protection against friction and wear

  • Protection against degradation from plant process chemicals, water and plant food ingredients

  • Heat dissipation

  • Compatibility with seals and elastomers

Food grade lubricants types & make-up

All food grade lubricants are made from additives and a base-fluid, which will provide a flash point, pour point, viscosity, and lubricity to the lubricant. The additives will improve the properties of the base-fluid, and add more properties to it. For instance, an additive that is added to improve anti-wear protection, may also help protect against corrosion for metal surfaces.

There are three main types of base-fluids, which come with the approval of the FDA, and are regularly used in H-1 food grade lubricants. These are as follows:

1. Polyalkylene glycols (PAGs)

2. Polyalphaolefins (PAOs)

3. White mineral oil (White Oils)

The most popular ones for use in food grade lubricants out of the three are the PAGs, which offer greater performance in beverage and food plant environments. The PAGs can withstand a massive amount of water, without compromising its properties as a lubricant, which makes it superior than the rest. It also offers great thermal conductivity, doesn’t cause friction, and increases the life of the food grade lubricant it is added into.

The reason PAGs can take on so much water is because they have propylene oxide and ethylene oxide, which makes them water soluble and perfect for any lubricant. They can also be customized based on different needs, as you can create separate PAG stocks. The base-fluid is also great at dealing with accidental overheating of machine parts. PAOs, and mineral oils will leave a carbon residue that is black in color, when they are overheated.

However, PAGs don’t leave any residue and will decompose into water and carbon dioxide when it is overheated. When PAG is used to lubricate parts, it doesn’t show any signs of gumming or carbon build-up, even after use for several years.


If you are looking for a high-quality food grade lubricant, you should look for high performance lubricants that have used this base-fluid in abundance. This lubricant will offer greater performance in comparison with non-food industrial lubricants, since it can withstand water and food chemical contaminations. It is also able to prolong equipment life, and offer greater protection to the machinery used in food processing, making it an excellent choice in the manufacturing plant.

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