If it weren’t for lubricants, not much of anything would happen. Machines would seize up, cars would break down, and food production and—and safety—would come to a halt.

Many types of lubes are used in the food industry, including those that are food grade, NSF H1 registered. These lubes are permitted to have “incidental contact” with food, as long as the amount doesn’t exceed 10 ppm. 

“NSF H1 products,” according to Ben Briseno of Clarion Lubricants in Houston, TX, “are normally used as maintenance lubes, oils, greases and hydraulic fluids and, of course, shouldn’t be leaking and falling onto food. But if they do, they won’t create an issue, as long as the amount doesn’t exceed the prescribed limit.” 

NSF H1 lubricants use non-toxic base stocks, such as high-performance “white” mineral oils, vegetable oils and certain esters. NSF HX1 additive packages are combined with these base stocks to provide the desired performance characteristics required of formulated maintenance lubricants.

By contrast, non-H1 lubes—such as H2—use petroleum and other base stocks, and they are not allowed to come into contact with food under any circumstances. Generally speaking, they’re less expensive than their H1 counterparts and historically have worked better from a performance point of view. Years ago, many people thought NSF H1 lubes didn’t make the grade. But now they do—and more. In addition to being safer, they typically perform every bit as well or better than non-food-grade lubes.

Above, below

Still, some companies don’t see it that way and continue adhering to the old “above the line, below the line” approach. This entails using the more expensive H1 lubes above the production line, where there’s a chance falling oils and greases may have incidental contact with food, while using less expensive H2 products below the line, such as underneath the conveyor, where the risk of contact is much smaller. But Briseno points out the fact that the risk is not zero, and lubes can still splash up and contact food passing above.

Another risk to consider is an inexperienced worker who accidentally mistakes H1 for H2 and uses each in the wrong place. “That’s why employee education and proper lube labeling and storage are so important to keeping food-grade and non-food-grade lubes apart,” notes Briseno.

The ideal practice, which is followed by more and more companies nowadays, is to convert the entire facility to food-grade lubricants. “Of course, that’s not possible with all applications. But I recommend that companies convert as many non-food-grade to food-grade lubes wherever possible to minimize the potential of mixing them up,” says Briseno.

Toby Porter, food market manager of Klüber Lubrication North America L.P., believes the industry is, by large, failing to adapt new practices. “For instance, it’s common to see a food-grade, general-purpose grease being used on a conveyor bearing for a packaging line, and an industrial, non-food-grade oil being used on chains passing through a baking oven, even though newer NSF H1 lubricants can be used for these more extreme applications.” That’s because thermal stability, once a weak point for NSF H1 products, is getting a lot better. Upper temperature limits are now in the 500?F range and as low as -65?F for freezer applications.

Demonstrating this point, Porter cites numerous Klüber can manufacturers that were looking for a food-grade lubricant for cans moving through ovens at temperatures exceeding 400?F and at speeds upwards of 2,000 cans per minute. “After reviewing the excessive speeds, extreme temperatures and the need to avoid contamination for this application, we developed a solution called Klüberfood NH1 CH 2-220,” he says. “It’s made of high-quality ester base stocks combined with a special additive package to reduce wear on the chains under these conditions.” With each customer, Klüber increased chain life, reduced oil spray and introduced the use of an NSF H1-registered lubricant to meet its safety needs.    

Eric Peter of JAX Inc. in Menomonee Falls, WI sees speed and automation as continuing trends. “Automation increases production capabilities, while speed increases productivity and output. In both cases, lubricants will need to keep up in terms of wear performance and temperature capabilities, while remaining H1 food-grade compliant.”

Consequently, new product development is key. A year ago, for instance, JAX released a new, patented line of food-grade compressor oils called Compresyn. Until these fluids were developed, compressor lubrication was one of the remaining weak links in H1 lubrication. The company also recently introduced FM global-approved, fire-resistant, H1 food-grade, synthetic hydraulic fluid to improve wear protection in cooking environment hydraulic systems and to enhance worker safety.

The right solution

To Jim Girard of Lubriplate Lubricants Co. in Newark, NJ and Toledo, OH, cheaper isn’t better when it comes to lubricants. “Too often, a lubricant supplier will start out with a boiler plate-type survey without listening to the customer. Just because an H1 food-grade lubricant works in a specific application, that does not mean it will work every time in the same application at different food and beverage processors.” Girard also stresses the importance of training maintenance engineering staff as the first step in building an effective lube program.

Michael Colquhoun, category portfolio manager at Petro-Canada Lubricants Inc. in Mississauga, ON, cites fluid life, resistance to breakdown and resistance to water washout in harsh operating environments as important functional criteria to consider when selecting a lubricant. “Whether choosing a food-grade hydraulic fluid, compressor fluid, gear fluid or grease for your equipment’s needs, it’s important to work with your lubricant supplier,” he says. “A technical services team should start by understanding the operating issues to find a solution that works, while ensuring HACCP principles, quality management systems and food safety are supported in their recommendations.”

Porter adds, “You also need to consider seal material and what type of lubricant is being used currently to assess compatibility.  Another point: Make an effort to keep the number of different lubricants to as few as possible, and clearly label and separate them so the right lube always gets to the right lubrication point.” 

Certification standards

Everyone in the food industry is well aware that regulations dealing with food safety will continue to get tighter and put more pressure—and cost—on the entire supply chain. “As processors assume the entire burden for ensuring a safe product and environment for food processing, more and more companies and suppliers are working toward achieving GFSI goals and adhering to FSMA guidelines,” says Eric Peter of JAX Inc. “In particular, they are interested in developing excellent HACCP controls, which directly impact lubricants and their application to parts.”

The following companies supply food-grade lubricants:

Aerospace Lubrication


Bel-Ray Company, Inc.






Dow Chemical




ExxonMobil Industrial Lubricants


Fuch Lubritech


Haynes Manufacturing Company


JAX, Inc.


Klüber Lubrication


Krylon Products Group


LPS Laboratory


Lubrication Engineers, Inc.




Petro-Canada, Inc.


Plews & Edelmann


Schaeffer Manufacturing Co.




Summit Industrial Products


Ultrachem, Inc.


ISO 22000 is a certification standard developed to help producers and suppliers improve food safety. Although it’s a derivative of ISO 9000, ISO 22000 is more procedural than principle based and involves interactive communication, system management, prerequisite programs and HACCP principles similar to schemes certified under GFSI.

To date, ExxonMobil Fuels and Lubricants is the only lubricant manufacturer with a complete line of NSF H1-registered lubricants produced in facilities that have earned ISO 22000 certification. Its products include Mobil SHC Cibus Series, Mobil DTE FM Series, Mobil SHC Polyrex Series and Mobilgrease FM Series.

ISO 21469 is another standard that certifies a lube is manufactured in a hygienic environment according to best practices and with FDA-approved ingredients. Porter of Klüber Lubrication says his company has over 150 NSF H1 products and more NSF ISO 21469-certified production locations than any other manufacturer. 

Product innovation

Summit Industrial Products of Tyler, TX has traditionally been a strong player in air compressor lubrication. Recently, it developed two types of food-grade H1 lubes for ammonia compressors as well. These include a fully synthetic PAO and an API Group II oil. “A lot of attention has to be placed on the ammonia compressor seals and the impact the oil has on them,” says Summit Marketing Manager Ike Trexler. “Our H1 ammonia compressor oil supports end-users that want to convert to a total NSF H1 lubrication program.”

On the other hand, Petro-Canada Lubricants’ Colquhoun says allergen control is a regulatory focus that is becoming increasingly important.  “Food manufacturers everywhere have become extremely sensitive to the effects of allergens in the products they produce,” he says. “All Petro-Canada PURITY FG lubricants are NSF H1 registered and have been checked for specific allergens.”

Among them are three new PURITY FG aerosol spray lubricants: PURITY FG penetrating oil spray, PURITY FG silicone spray and PURITY FG2 with MICROL MAX spray grease. (MICROL is an EPA-registered antimicrobial preservative used in select Petro-Canada food-grade lubricants and greases.) “Sprays provide a solution for lubricating hard-to-reach areas within the plant,” Colquhoun explains. “These new PURITY FG aerosol sprays were developed to spray as effectively when the container is held upside down as when it is held right side up, making application easier.”

Another innovative new product from Lubriplate is LUBRI-ARMOUR, an EPA-registered and trademarked antimicrobial additive designed to prevent lubes from being broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria, listeria and mold. LUBRI-ARMOUR is included in LUBRIPLATE SFL series, FGL series, PURE TAC, PURE TAC Light, CLEARPLEX series and SYNXTREME FG series food-grade products. 

XTREMITY, another new H1 additive from Lubriplate, delivers both anti-wear and extreme-pressure protection. “True EP capability from an additive used in H1 food-grade greases is also relatively new to the marketplace,” notes Girard.

Customer support

In business, competitiveness increases with effective customer support and after sales service. The lube industry is no exception.

The ExxonMobil Fuels and Lubricants SIGNUM Oil Analysis oil monitoring program gives customers access to a global network of lube professionals. It helps users in numerous areas, including extending oil drain intervals, reducing labor and maintenance costs, decreasing waste oil generation and disposal, and improving worker safety by reducing equipment interaction.

Summit offers plant audits and free used oil analyses to its customers. In addition, the company has developed an elaborate color-coded labeling system, along with other elements designed to make a food-grade lubrication program run smoothly. 

The right choice saves money

At a large hot dog processor’s facility, JAX Corporation’s Xact Fluid Solutions division installed an automated chain spray lubrication system on a production machinery line with a 2,000-foot-plus customized stainless steel chain. Xact positive displacement pumps micro-dose JAX proofer chain oil through precision spray nozzles that act as airbrushes to spray a fine amount of lubricant between the chain links. This fluid migrates into the pin and bushing of the chain.

Prior to the installation, the typical chain life at the site was less than two years, and the biannual cost of replacing it was over $500,000.  The JAX Xact system increased chain life to over five years at a capital investment of less than $50,000.

Reducing contamination

Switching to an NSF H1-registered lubricant helped a Tennessee-based sausage manufacturer save money by reducing water contamination in its meat grinder gear boxes.

Previously, the sausage manufacturer’s gear boxes used a standard 80W-90 lubricant prone to water contamination. Emulsification levels in the lubricant were high, and the company had to spend excessive time and money changing out contaminated oils.

The company decided to switch to Mobil SHC Cibus150 NSF H1 lubricant, manufactured by ExxonMobil Fuels and Lubricants. The high-performance synthetic oil with a naturally high-viscosity index provides water separation and corrosion protection in a variety of food machinery applications. Excellent water separation means the sausage manufacturer’s operators can quickly drain free-standing water from the bottom of the gear box reservoir, reducing changeovers, gear box failures and lubricant usage for a yearly savings of approximately $325,000.