Greg Morris of Shell Lubricants explains how one of the world’s biggest oil companies is making a difference in the food and beverage industry.
What is Shell’s vested interest in the food industry?
GM. At Shell, we are continuing to invest a lot of resources to introduce products and services that will cause an impact in the industry.
Shell has invested substantial resources in developing and improving the technology employed in producing high-performance food-safe lubricants for the food manufacturing industry. We work directly with the top food manufacturers in the world as part of their safety risk management process with respect to their processes, products and equipment.
How do food grade lubricants help the food and beverage manufacturer’s process, products and equipment safety risk management process? How do food-grade lubricants differ from regular lubricants?
GM. The main difference in modern food-grade lubricants is that they are formulated with FDA approved chemicals only and fulfill the criteria formerly set by the USDA in the H1 category of lubricants for incidental food contact, which today is controlled by the National Sanitary Foundation (NSF). If a contamination occurs up to the 10 parts per million ceiling limit of lubricant, no adverse, long-term effects to human health or food quality have been detected. The limit for non-food grade lubricants is zero ppm.
In addition, performance of modern food grade lubricants meets the performance of standard non-food grade products, and in some cases exceeds their performance. This was not the case in the early 80’s, when mainly technical white oils were used as base fluids. Since then, base oil quality has significantly increased and the formulation knowledge as well. Although the FDA additives list (21 CFR 178.3570) has not been amended with a lot of novel additives during the last 20 years, formulation knowledge and techniques have developed substantially.
With the introduction of synthetic base fluids in the 90s lubricants manufacturers have been able to formulate tailor-made, high performance food grade lubricants. These products are performing their function while complying with NSF criteria.
Many food manufacturers have specialized applications and the industry in particular has specialized Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM). Can you describe the importance of Shell’s relationship with those OEM’s and the impact of the relationship to food and beverage manufacturers?
GM. The world in which we live in is getting smaller every day. The local food and beverage manufacturer around the corner may use equipment from the US, Europe, Asia and all over the globe. The reliability of the equipment can have a direct impact on their profitability. The OEM’s for warranty reasons have a vested interest in the reliability of their equipment as well. Having a lubricant supplier that can bridge the relationship between the OEM and the food and beverage manufacturer helps to drive reliability for both parties. For example, in response to requests from beverage manufacturers, Shell works closely with major OEM’s such as Angelus Sanitary Can Company to formulate high performance, food grade lubricants to satisfy the need in the industry.
Are all food producers subject to the use of food grade lubricants? Is it limited to human food producers or also pet and animal food manufacturers?
GM. Animal feed production is the food chain’s first link and can potentially determine the course of food safety from the farm through to the consumer. A potentially significant source of animal feed contamination can come from the mineral non-food grade lubricants and greases used to keep feed processing machinery running smoothly and efficiently.
Good engineering and operational practices can potentially reduce the risk of lubricant contamination, however it can never be 100 percent successful. Continuous production means that machine wear and tear is inevitable over time and operators risk lubricant leaks and drips from conveyors, bearings or gearboxes coming into contact with the feed. Producers can potentially reduce this risk through the use of NSF H1 food grade lubricants as opposed to non-food grade alternatives.
In Shell’s experience, are services important to the food manufacturers?
GM. Most definitely. At Shell, we understand that food producers have to ensure that their product is safe. Therefore it goes beyond buying a food grade lubricant. We offer a detailed Lubrication Contamination Control Point (LCCP) survey as part of the food producer’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. This survey consists of inventorying all contamination control points, checking all machines where oil and greases are used and carefully analyzing and recording the risk where the lubricant can enter into contact with the food. Documenting the measures, procedures and specifications, and implementing preventative and corrective measures are part of the process for all food manufacturers. The last step is to verify all safeguards are in place for the ongoing audits and for the food producer’s peace of mind.
At Shell, we are continually assessing our service offerings to the industry. As a matter of fact, we offer a leak detection service. We developed a food grade dye to detect oil leaks, and we use a UV light to identify those leaks that are not easily discovered.
Is there a trend in food grade lubricants moving toward antimicrobials?
GM. Bacteria can be a problem for the food manufacturer, and the lubricant in the equipment can harbor bacteria. In some food manufacturing plants bacteria are a needed component, such as yeast for beer and bread. Shell food grade products do not contain biocides or antimicrobials. Our products are bioststatic, meaning they neither kill nor promote the growth of bacteria.
Being that the use of food grade lubricant is such a sensitive area for food and beverage producers, why do they trust Shell for supply of the food grade lubricants?
GM. Regardless of size, all food and beverage manufacturers have invested time and money in the advancement and development of their brands. A company’s brand is one of its most valuable assets. Since Shell is one of the most recognizable brands globally, manufacturers know that we understand the value of their brand and work hard to develop products suitable for their needs. At Shell, we believe that using food-grade lubricants is the right thing to do for everyone involved, and is the right thing for the manufacturer, for the equipment, and for the consumer.
Greg Morris is Shell’s Business Development Manager for the Food & Beverage industry in the US. A chemist with over 16 years of industry experience, Morris has been involved with various roles during his Shell career, including plant formulations chemist, field technical staff and engineering services.