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Presidents Message January 2010

David K. Scheetz

Food time

Let’s reflect on the important role food-grade lubricants play in our everyday lives.

This time of the year our attention is focused on holidays, family events and, of course, the Super Bowl. Plenty of food, snacks and beverages are always nearby.
That makes now the perfect time to think about the role food-grade lubricants play in our everyday lives.

While in Memphis last October for STLE’s International Joint Tribology Conference, I and STLE Executive Director Ed Salek had the opportunity to visit a local food-processing plant. This facility was using conventional lubricants and wanted to switch to food-grade products to better comply with federal regulations.
The maintenance manager in charge of lubricants discussed how the plant was switching to H1 lubricants. The process, which began four years ago and is still ongoing, is a bit complicated, and this team had to replace a number of systems because PAGs are not compatible with other lubricants. 

This plant now is USDA/FDA compliant.  That is the reality for enterprises involved with food processing. You either comply or go out of business.  Also in October, I attended the 2009 Worldwide Food Expo at Chicago’s McCormick Place. This is a major trade show with 800 exhibitors and more than 20,000 attendees.

As with any trade show, you attend to sell and to learn. I viewed a number of unique machines built exclusively for the food and beverage industry. Every machine on the show floor had National Science Foundation-approved food-grade lubricants, including the additives. This is an indication of just how important lubricants are to the food-producing industry.

Some of the videos showed the process by which an animal goes from the pasture to the plate. A global educational initiative aimed at teaching children where food comes from refers to this process as Farm to Fork.  The videos were, well, not for the squeamish, and I’m glad I saw them after I enjoyed the wonderful food samples offered at the exhibits.

These two opportunities reminded me of the importance of high-quality, high-performance, food-friendly lubricants and the systems that support them. Those involved in food processing are concerned with white oils, synthetic oils, additives and the mandatory daily clean up of plant machinery. These individuals deal with extremely troublesome contaminates, including sugar, salt, flour, talc, sorbitol and processed water, plus beef, poultry and fish byproducts. 

Daily clean up of the plant and equipment involves compliance with NSF, USDA, FDA 21 CFR Standards and the approval of various religious dietary restrictions such as Kosher and Halal.  Food allergies also are a concern. Interestingly enough, sometimes the machines are down for cleaning longer than the actual production time.

As is usually the case, new, more stringent regulations are coming down the pike. Soon contaminants will be measured not in parts per million but parts per billion. An already daunting task is becoming even more so. At the same time, the Farm to Fork campaign is impacting all of our lives for the better.

So while you’re watching the big game with a cold brew in one hand and a burger in the other, please take a moment to think about the demands placed on food-grade lubricants. These substances play a vital role in avoiding product recalls, loss of equipment and components, plummeting food and beverage sales and loss of brand confidence.

Thanks for listening—now will someone please pass the chips?

Dave Scheetz, CLS, is an equipment builder engineer for ExxonMobil Lubricants & Specialties.  You can reach him at david.k.scheetz@exxonmobil.com

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