by Cory Bretz
May 9, 2018
The world is getting hungrier. Processed food consumption is expected to skyrocket in the coming years. The global craving for factory made foods and drinks has a number of driving factors, from rapid population growth in the developing world to a heightened fondness for Western-style fast food in countries such as China and India. People turn to manufactured food because it’s affordable, it’s engineered to satisfy our taste buds, and they don’t have the time (or maybe the motivation) to cook fresh food.
Before the dinner bell can ring, processed foods complete a complex odyssey from farm to factory to fork. Many inputs are needed to complete this journey – from water, sunshine, and animal feed to grow the food to transportation equipment and gasoline to ship it to laborers at every stop along the way. A group of products essential to this process that may not come to mind, but are set to benefit from the rise in processed food sales, are industrial lubricants.
Food processing requires a variety of lubricants, from white oils to hydraulic fluids to greases. These products prevent rust formation, limit wear on factory machines and their parts, and act as release agents to keep food from sticking to equipment. Unfortunately, kitchen staples such as olive oil and melted butter don’t meet the performance requirements of modern food processing machinery. Enter food-grade lubricants: specially-formulated oils that are considered safe for use in food processing facilities.
Several organizations have been striving in recent years to establish formal guidelines for food-grade lubricants. NSF International classifies lubricants into three distinct categories (H1, H2, and H3) based on the product’s likelihood of contacting food. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has two standards (21469 and 22000) that tangentially cover food lubricants, but compliance remains voluntary, putting manufacturers in a pickle.
In order to meet one or more of the various guidelines, the lubricant must adhere to a strict set of formulation and performance guidelines that take years of costly tests to achieve. As a result, many manufacturers use lubricants that are less than appetizing. It has long been common practice for manufacturers to use NSF International H2 lubricants – which are certified for use in the factory but not certified to contact food – in applications where incidental food contact is possible, as opposed to the more appropriate H1 lubricant. Current trends, however, suggest that an increasing number of factories will use the proper lubricants in the coming years.
Even as recently as last decade, a majority of food processing facilities in the United States were not using recognized food-grade products, citing performance concerns and general confusion about the regulation process. However, recent trends in the developed world have consumers becoming more conscious about what they eat, where their food comes from, and how it arrived at their grocery store.
In France, consumers are able to observe an augmented reality retelling of their basmati rice’s journey from the farm to their pantry. In the Netherlands, the first plastic-free supermarket aisle was unveiled in 2018 in response to growing concern over the plastic’s role in the food chain. While the use of lubricants in the food processing industry isn’t as well documented as these examples, suppliers are looking to stay ahead of the curve by increasingly utilizing food-grade oils on their equipment.
A growing number of factories in the developing world, where consumers have less access to information about their food supply chain and where regulations have historically been less stringent, are built by companies headquartered in developed nations. These factories typically have similar design and lubrication requirements as those in their countries of origin, which will boost demand for food lubricants in places where it has typically been weak, such as China and India. As a result, expect manufacturers to gobble up food-grade oils at an even faster rate than other types of industrial lubricants.
The growth in food and beverage manufacturing is one of many factors affecting the global industrial lubricants market. If you’d like to know more, check out Global Industrial Lubricants, a new study from the Freedonia Group.
Cory Bretz is an industry analyst at the Freedonia Group, where he researches and writes studies on the US and global chemicals and construction markets.
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