Food processors are constantly trying to maintain hygienic operating facilities while optimizing productivity. To help processors meet their business goals, lubricant manufacturers are establishing safety audit programs as subsets to proactive food safety and maintenance strategies.
We asked Mike Raab, OEM manager and industry liaison for Anderol Inc. – a major manufacturer of specialty lubricants – to share his expertise on food lubricant safety audits for food processors. Raab, whose career is built on lubrication engineering and industry safety standards, discusses the benefits of participating in an audit program, standard protocol, and selection of an audit provider.
Q: What are the benefits of participating in a food lubricant safety audit?
A: A food lubricant safety audit program is a proactive step that food processors are taking to comply with the latest safety regulations and to create hygienic operating environments. Through this exercise, processors benefit from strengthening brand integrity and improving quality assurance initiatives.
Audit programs are also designed to review compatibility of all lubricant and grease products to other plant ingredients, chemicals and equipment components. Food processors use several types of lubricants throughout their facilities, which may hinder equipment performance due to potential incompatibility. Surveying utilized lubricants and analyzing compatibility generally rewards processors with consolidation opportunities of lubricant inventories. Consolidation and compatibility of products ensures proper equipment lubrication, enhanced performance and a reduction in overall lubrication costs.
Q: How does a food lubricant safety audit fit into food processors’ business strategy?
A: A food processor’s profitability is directly related to equipment performance and the level of hygiene in its facility. Processors are using safety audits to meet production forecasts and minimize the risk of product contamination. Through regularly scheduled surveys, food processors are reducing maintenance expenditures, maximizing equipment life and strengthening safety initiatives. In addition, an effective audit program reduces costs, allowing food processors to allocate more resources to build business, expand processing capabilities and increase production levels.
Q: What food segments will benefit the most from food lubricant safety audits?
A: Safety audits address safety and operational issues that are relevant in every market segment of food processing - from produce to meat and poultry to beverage. The general benefits for audit participants are the same across the board with fiscal benefits dependent on the specific operation. Protocols change with every facility depending on operating environments, critical application areas of equipment and production cycles.
An effective audit program needs to meet the specific business needs of the processor. For example, Anderol audited a beverage bottling plant that was experiencing problems with equipment performance. Results of this survey indicated that sugar was mixing with the lubricant and necessitating a frequent change of equipment components. Anderol lubricant specialists proactively worked with the company to formulate a customized lubricant to maximize equipment performance in a sugar-containing environment. For this reason, it is important to partner with an auditor who is an expert in lubricant chemistries and formulations as well as in equipment function and performance.
Q: How often should food processors conduct a food lubricant safety audit?
A: Audits should be performed at least every three years. However, a survey should be conducted if there is a change in parts or equipment, inefficient equipment performance, an increase in lubrication intervals or after any process modifications. In these instances, proactive equipment monitoring ensures the longevity of machine components and the efficiency of the entire production line to help processors meet production targets and customer delivery.
Q: What is the standard protocol involved in conducting a food lubricant safety audit?
A: An audit begins with a lubricant expert reviewing maintenance records and identifying equipment components, paying particular attention to those components with an abnormal frequency of maintenance and repair. OEM manuals should be consulted to find recommended lubricant and maintenance protocols. The audit professional itemizes utilized and recommended lubricants by equipment, application and frequency of use.
The next step is to monitor the equipment operating environment. The auditor first identifies the critical application areas of equipment and analyzes potential areas where lubricants could contact food. He or she also inspects the operating and storage environments to determine potential areas where a lubricant could become contaminated with water, airborne particles, dust, dirt or chemicals. The audit professional then reviews the company’s handling and pumping practices to identify any equipment functions that may cause cross-contamination of lubricants.
A successful survey contains the following elements:
equipment name and model number
component name and serial number
frequency of lubricant use
volume of lubricant per application
special comments or conditions
This survey becomes part of the permanent maintenance records for the plant. It is the primary tool for maintenance professionals to properly schedule lubricant checks. A suitable lubricant audit is time consuming and requires cooperation from all plant personnel. Once completed, the survey is a valuable tool for maintenance and engineering professionals.
To complete the audit, the lubricant expert analyzes the results and provides recommendations to improve food safety, maximize equipment performance, reduce maintenance costs and increase overall operational efficiencies.
Q: What personnel should be involved in the audit process?
A: It is best to include a professional who has an all-encompassing expertise of lubricant chemistry, equipment design and operation, and industrial standards. Food processors should also utilize a lubricant professional who works with OEMs to provide specific lubricant solutions that remain consistent with warranty agreements.
Plant engineers and maintenance personnel provide the audit professional maintenance records and OEM manuals while the plant hygienists or QA/QC personnel assist during the evaluation of the facility. Management should also be included in the final stage to review the audit analysis and implement the recommended tactics to streamline operational procedures and increase profitability.
Q: Should food processors who are already using food-grade lubricants participate in an audit?
A: Definitely. Using food-grade lubricants is an important strategy; however food processors also need to monitor the performance of their equipment. Equipment not operating properly can cause excessive amounts of lubricants to come into contact with processed foods, potentially contaminating the product. The goal of an audit program is to minimize the level of incidental contact and risk of contamination and bacterial growth through examining critical application areas of processing machinery.
Q: What advice would you give food processors who are considering a food lubricant safety audit?
A: When participating in a safety audit, food processors need to focus on their business goals – such as production numbers, safety initiatives, equipment life and maintenance expenditures.
It is important to partner with a lubricant company that provides a one-stop shop for food processors. This should include offering a comprehensive portfolio of high-performance food-grade lubricants, technical expertise of processing machinery, and a commanding knowledge of chemistry to examine safety levels of potentially contaminated product. These distinctive characteristics are effective in strengthening the brand and its integrity, and ultimately to ensure customer satisfaction.