The Importance of Proper Food-grade Lubricants

Erica McDonald, CITGO Petroleum Corporation
Tags: food grade lubricants

Optimal lubrication is a critical consideration in any production process. In food and beverage production specifically, a balance must be struck; machinery lubrication and food safety are both important. While machines need to be lubricated for smooth operations, care must be taken to avoid chemical contamination. Using food-grade lubricants - and using them in a correct manner - is one way to mitigate food contamination resulting from chemical contact. Food-grade lubricants are made with base stocks and additives that are safe for use around food processing areas. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International registers a wide range of chemical compounds used in products, including lubricants, that comply with key regional and global food safety guidelines as well as industry regulations.

NSF’s registration marks are often one of the few that are accepted by food and beverage companies globally. NSF registration demonstrates that a lubricant is aligned with food safety practices adopted by global regulatory agencies.

So, what are NSF’s compliance programs for food-grade lubricants and why are they important?

Registrations and Certifications

Quality and purity are of utmost importance in a food and beverage production line, and the NSF has various registrations which are based on the USDA White Book. These registrations address the level of contact a lubricant can have with food and the level of risk associated with each. They include 3H, H1, H2 and H3 lubricants.

Are direct contact lubricants. These lubricants are produced with base stocks approved for use by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) and National Formulary (NF).

Formulated with HX-1 approved additives, are for incidental contact applications.


Can only be used in the parts of food and beverage processing facilities where there is no possibility of the lubricant coming in contact with food.


Are soluble oils used to clean and prevent rust on food processing equipment during storage. These lubricants must be wiped off before the equipment is used.


NSF also certifies (and lists online) products that meet ISO 21469 standards for food-grade lubricants. ISO 21469 is a step-up from H1 registrations as it goes beyond formulations and ingredients and includes quality control and risk assessments. Guidelines for allowable substances used in the formulation of food-grade lubricants are contained in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 21. Food-grade lubricants must be formulated to meet U.S. FDA 21 CFR 178.3570.

Using a food-grade lubricant can also be a proactive part of a plant’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. HACCP is a science-based system aimed at controlling food safety hazards within the plant as a way of mitigating the risk of food contamination. An HACCP certification comes highly recommended as it demonstrates a commitment to food safety from harvest to consumption. Prerequisite programs, such as Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), are required for an HACCP certification. Prerequisite programs are geared towards ensuring necessary environmental and operating conditions are adhered to in a food production setting.

HACCP is built upon seven basic principles:

Best-practice facilities create and maintain a comprehensive HACCP plan. Some food processing facilities have also implemented color-coding as a part of their HACCP plan. A color coding system also helps to reduce product mix-ups in a diverse and multi-lingual setting.



Direct contact, 3H lubricants are used as release agents on baking pans, dough dividers, cutters, knives, trays, grills, pans, hooks and other food processing equipment. The lubricants can also be used as a coating on eggs, fruits and vegetables and as a defoaming agent. 3H lubricants are also used as floats to protect the surface of wine and vinegar from air exposure and as a grain dust control agent.

H1 lubricants perform the same basic functions as conventional lubricants while maintaining compliance with food safety regulations. Depending on the application of use, H1 food-grade lubricants are formulated to provide protection against rust, wear and corrosion. Extreme pressure properties and oxidation stability are examples of features that may be found in H1 food-grade lubricants. These lubricants must also maintain compatibility with commonly used elastomers often used in seals. H1 lubricants can be used as antirust agents or release agents on gaskets and seals. Food-grade hydraulic fluids, greases and gear lubricants are common H1 lubricants used in food processing facilities.


Proper storage and handling

Adopting proper storage and handling of food-grade lubricants is another method to help prevent cross-contamination. Food-grade lubricants should be properly identified. It is a best practice to keep food-grade lubricants in separate storage, away from non-food-grade lubricants. Separating food-grade lubricants from conventional non-food-grade lubricants reduces potential lubricant contamination as well. Shelf life and storage guidelines can be obtained from your lubricant manufacturer. Generally, food-grade lubricants should always be stored in a cool, dry environment. The additives and ingredients used to formulate the product will determine the shelf life of the lubricant.

Lubricant facilities must ensure that lubricants are properly labeled. Proper labeling and easily-accessible safety data sheets support correct product handling and usage. As an added safety measure, facilities could set apart designated containers, dispensers, and applicators for food-grade lubricants as well.


It is important to know how to identify food-grade lubricants, their different uses in food processing areas, storage and handling procedures and where they fit in a plant’s HACCP plan. Food grade lubricants are specifically formulated to ensure optimal lubrication for machinery while minimizing the risk of lubricant cross-contamination.