UK: Lubricating the Halal food market

Mark Burnett looks at the role of food-safe lubricants in halal food production and ensuring machinery is contaminant-free and fully-functional

The growing halal food market means that plant managers need to be more aware of issues such as adapting production lines, potential sources of contamination and choosing a food grade lubricant for equipment and machinery.

This demand can be partly attributed to a growing Muslim population, which currently stands at around 1.8bn people, but also to the fact that many non-Muslim consumers choose to buy halal as part of a lifestyle choice that accompanies healthy eating and ethically sourced foods.

The problem is that not all plants can keep up with the flexibility demanded from halal food.

Because foods and beverages cannot be halal if they contain pork, blood, carrion or alcohol, all preparation and processing areas must eliminate the risk of contamination.

The consequence is that from slaughter and handling to production and packaging, the process places a lot of stress on machinery and equipment.

As with all food production environments, high volume production with frequent customisation and line changes can cause machinery components such as gearboxes and bearings to fail prematurely.

One of the leading causes of equipment failure is poor lubrication.

To make matters worse, in the food and beverage industry, all lubricants need to be food-grade.

That means they need to meet industry standard NSF H1 regulations that limit the amount of incidental contact that can occur to a trace amount, usually in the region of ten parts per million. Anything more than this is deemed unsafe for consumption.

Most food-grade greases and lubricating oils available in the marketplace compromise performance to achieve this safety standard. When these lubricants are exposed to heavy loads, high temperatures and contaminants such as water, acids and particulates, they promote the growth of microorganisms that cause the lubricant to rapidly break down and become a dangerous food contaminant.

To make sure this does not happen, plant managers need to take a methodical approach to lubricant maintenance. It is important to effectively clean and remove used lubricants before applying the right lubricant that can handle the demands of food machinery.

To help maintenance engineers, NCH Europe has developed a cleaning solution called Flush and Clean. This gearbox cleaner dissolves gear-oil deposits, neutralises acids and cleans the metal surface ready for the next application of oil.

Once the gearbox has been prepared, engineers can use NCH Europe’s Top Blend CS FG, a calcium-sulphonate food-grade gear oil that contains adhesive cohesive polymers that allows it to cling to metal surfaces without being washed away by high temperature steam and condensation in food applications.

Where equipment such as bearings need grease rather than oil, NCH Europe has also developed a food-grade grease called K Plex White. As well as adhesive cohesive polymers, it also contains shock load reducers and extreme pressure (EP) agents that work to cushion impacts and minimise stress, vibration and chatter under heavy loads.

As the global halal food market continues to grow, plant managers can no longer rely on traditional methods.

By closely monitoring maintenance cycles, downtime and lubricants, they can successfully adapt to the changing needs of the marketplace.

Mark Burnett is VP of the Lubricants and Fuel Additives Innovation Platform at NCH Europe.