Guide to Food Grade Lubricants: What You Need to Know

Understanding Food Grade Lubricants: Importance and Safety

Food grade lubricants are crucial to maintaining the smooth operation of machinery in food and pharmaceutical manufacturing. These specialized lubricants must not only perform like any other lubricant but also meet stringent health and safety regulations to prevent contamination. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick rundown:

  1. Types: H1, H2, H3
  2. Uses: Incidental food contact, non-food contact, rust prevention
  3. Benefits: Wear protection, heat dissipation, safety compliance

Maintaining cleanliness in food and drug production environments is as vital as in hospital operating rooms. The right lubricants play a key role in this, especially when considering the risk of contamination from environmental factors like dust, water, and microorganisms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) H1, H2, and H3 classifications help businesses ensure their lubricants are safe and compliant.

Hi, I’m Todd Cleppe, Executive Engineer and Sales at CFAB LLC. With over 25 years in designing lubrication systems and improving food packaging equipment, I bring a wealth of expertise in food grade lubricants. Let’s dive deeper into how to keep your production both smooth and safe.

Food Grade Lubricants Overview - food grade lubricants infographic infographic-line-3-steps

What are Food Grade Lubricants?

Food grade lubricants are specially formulated oils, greases, and other substances used to ensure the smooth operation of machinery in food processing and packaging environments. These lubricants are designed to be safe for incidental contact with food, meeting stringent safety and health standards to prevent contamination.

Types of Food Grade Lubricants

H1 Lubricants
H1 lubricants are used where there is a possibility of incidental contact with food. Even though they are not meant to touch food directly, accidental contamination can happen. These lubricants must be made from specific ingredients approved by the FDA, including base stocks, additives, and thickeners. They are often used as anti-rust agents, release agents on gaskets or seals, and for lubricating machine parts like conveyors and gearboxes. H1 lubricants cannot contain heavy metals or harmful substances like lead, arsenic, or mercury.

H2 Lubricants
H2 lubricants are used in areas where there is no chance of the lubricant coming into contact with food. These lubricants do not have a defined list of acceptable ingredients but must still avoid harmful substances like heavy metals and carcinogens. They are commonly used in non-food contact areas of food processing plants, such as oven chains, air compressors, and industrial turbines.

H3 Lubricants
H3 lubricants, also known as soluble or edible oils, are primarily used to prevent rust on hooks, trolleys, and similar equipment. These lubricants are safe for direct contact with food and are often made from edible oils like vegetable oil.

Incidental Contact vs. Non-Food Contact

Incidental Contact
H1 lubricants are designed for situations where incidental contact with food might occur. For example, a lubricant used on a conveyor system that runs above a food line must be H1 certified to ensure that any accidental drips or splashes do not contaminate the food.

Non-Food Contact
H2 lubricants are used in places where there is no risk of food contact. These can be used in machinery parts that are not directly involved in the food processing area but still require lubrication to function efficiently.

Edible Oils

H3 lubricants fall into the category of edible oils. These oils are safe for direct contact with food and are used to prevent rust on equipment like hooks and trolleys. Edible oils are often derived from natural sources and are free from harmful additives.

Understanding the different types of food grade lubricants and their applications is crucial for maintaining both machine reliability and food safety. Next, we’ll explore the key benefits of using these specialized lubricants in your food processing operations.

Key Benefits of Using Food Grade Lubricants

Food grade lubricants offer a range of benefits that are essential for safe and efficient food processing operations. Here’s what you need to know:

Wear Protection

Good lubricants protect machinery from normal wear and tear. This is crucial in food processing where equipment runs continuously. Super Lube® Synthetic Greases, for example, contain Syncolon® particles that fill surface irregularities, creating a smooth, lubricated surface. This reduces wear and extends the lifespan of your machines.

Friction Reduction

Reducing friction is key to ensuring machinery runs smoothly. Lubricants like Super Lube® have a low coefficient of friction, which minimizes resistance between moving parts. This not only improves efficiency but also reduces the energy required to operate the machinery.

Corrosion Prevention

Food processing environments can be harsh, with exposure to water, steam, and chemicals. Quality food grade lubricants are designed to resist corrosion. They form a protective barrier that prevents rust and deterioration, ensuring your equipment remains in good working condition.

Oxidation Resistance

Oxidation can degrade lubricants, making them less effective over time. Food grade lubricants are formulated to resist oxidation, maintaining their protective properties even in challenging conditions. This is especially important in environments with high temperatures or exposure to air.

Heat Dissipation

Efficient heat dissipation is crucial for preventing machinery from overheating. Food grade lubricants help transfer heat away from moving parts, ensuring that equipment operates within safe temperature ranges. This not only protects the machinery but also improves overall performance.

Sealing Compatibility

Compatibility with sealing materials like rubber and plastics is vital. Food grade lubricants are designed to be neutral towards these materials, preventing any degradation that could lead to leaks or contamination. This ensures that seals remain effective, maintaining the integrity of the machinery.

Safety Compliance

Compliance with safety regulations is non-negotiable in the food industry. Food grade lubricants must meet stringent standards, such as those set by the FDA and NSF. Products like Super Lube® Synthetic Greases are NSF registered and meet USDA 1998 H1 guidelines, ensuring they are safe for incidental food contact.

Using food grade lubricants not only protects your machinery but also ensures the safety and quality of your food products. In the next section, we’ll delve into the various types of food grade lubricants and their specific applications.

Types of Food Grade Lubricants

H1 Lubricants

H1 lubricants are used where there is a risk of incidental food contact. This means they might occasionally touch the food, but they aren’t meant to be a part of it. These lubricants are essential for machinery like mixers, slicers, and conveyors. They must meet FDA regulations, specifically 21 CFR 178.3570, ensuring they contain only approved ingredients.

Key Features of H1 Lubricants:

  • Anti-rust properties: Protects machine parts from corrosion.
  • Release agents: Helps prevent food from sticking to equipment.
  • Safe for incidental contact: Can be used in areas where accidental food contact may occur.

Look for labels stating “NSF H1 Registered” or “Ingredients meet FDA Regulation 178.3570” to ensure compliance. For example, a lubricant used on a conveyor belt in a bakery would need to be H1 certified.

H2 Lubricants

H2 lubricants are designed for use in areas where there is no possibility of food contact. These are typically used for equipment maintenance in non-food areas, such as forklifts or air compressors in a food processing plant. While they do not need to meet the same stringent requirements as H1 lubricants, they must still be free from harmful substances like lead, arsenic, and mercury.

Key Features of H2 Lubricants:

  • Anti-rust properties: Essential for maintaining machinery.
  • Release agents: Used on machine parts to prevent sticking.
  • Non-food contact: Suitable for areas below the production line or outside the food prep zone.

For instance, the oil used to maintain a forklift in a food warehouse would be an H2 lubricant.

H3 Lubricants

H3 lubricants are edible oils used for rust prevention on hooks, trolleys, and other equipment that might come into contact with food products. These lubricants can be made from substances like cottonseed, soybean, or corn oils. They are safe for direct contact with food and can even be consumed in small quantities without harm.

Key Features of H3 Lubricants:

  • Edible oils: Safe for direct food contact.
  • Rust prevention: Protects equipment from corrosion.
  • Used on hooks and trolleys: Common in areas where food is directly handled.

An example would be using H3 lubricant on meat hooks in a processing plant to prevent rust and ensure safety.

In the next section, we’ll explore the various applications of these food grade lubricants, highlighting how they keep your equipment running smoothly and your food products safe.

Applications of Food Grade Lubricants

Food grade lubricants play a vital role in keeping various types of food processing equipment running smoothly and safely. Here are some common applications:


Blenders in food processing plants require lubrication to reduce friction and wear on moving parts. H1 lubricants are often used here because of the possibility of incidental food contact. They help to ensure that the blender operates efficiently without contaminating the food.

Bottle Washers

Bottle washers clean bottles before they are filled with beverages. Lubricants used in these machines need to withstand water and cleaning agents. H2 lubricants are commonly used since they don’t come into direct contact with food.


Conveyors are everywhere in food processing plants, moving products from one station to another. Lubricants for conveyors must be able to handle constant motion and potential contact with food products. H1 lubricants are ideal for this application.


Gearboxes in food processing equipment need to operate smoothly to avoid downtime. H1 gear oils like Quinplex® Syn FG Gear Oil are used to protect against wear and tear, even under extreme conditions.


Slides and guides in machinery need to move effortlessly to ensure smooth operation. H1 lubricants are essential for these parts, especially when there is a chance of incidental food contact.


Cookers involve high temperatures and potential food contact. H1 high-temperature lubricants like Ovenworx® H1 Syn Chain Lubricant are designed to withstand these conditions without breaking down or contaminating the food.

Packaging Equipment

Packaging equipment must operate efficiently to keep up with production demands. Lubricants used here must be safe for incidental food contact and effective in reducing wear. H1 lubricants are commonly used to ensure safety and efficiency.


Valves control the flow of liquids and gases in food processing. H1 lubricants are used to ensure smooth operation and prevent contamination.


Hydraulic systems in food processing plants need reliable lubrication to function correctly. H1 hydraulic oils are used to ensure that these systems run smoothly without the risk of contaminating food products.

Canning Machines

Canning machines seal food in cans, requiring precise and reliable operation. H1 lubricants are used to keep these machines running smoothly and to prevent any risk of contamination.


Bushings in food processing equipment reduce friction between moving parts. H1 lubricants are used to ensure that these parts move smoothly without contaminating the food.

By using the right food grade lubricants in these applications, you can keep your equipment running efficiently and ensure the safety of your food products.

In the next section, we’ll discuss how to choose the right food grade lubricant for your specific needs, considering factors like load, temperature, and regulatory compliance.

How to Choose the Right Food Grade Lubricant

Choosing the right food grade lubricant is crucial for maintaining equipment and ensuring food safety. Here are some key factors to consider:


Different equipment handles different loads. High-load machines need lubricants with strong film strength to prevent wear. For instance, gearboxes in food processing plants often operate under heavy loads and require lubricants that can withstand these pressures without breaking down.


Consider the operating temperature of your equipment. Some lubricants work well in high temperatures, while others are better suited for cooler environments. For example, H1 Quinplex® High Temperature Lubricant is designed for bearings near heat-generating equipment, ensuring they stay lubricated even in extreme heat.


The environment also plays a role in lubricant selection. Areas exposed to water, steam, or chemicals need lubricants that resist degradation. For instance, meat processing plants with rigorous steam cleaning procedures require lubricants that can withstand high moisture levels.


The speed at which equipment operates affects lubricant choice. High-speed machinery needs lubricants with low viscosity to reduce friction and prevent overheating. Conversely, slow-moving equipment may benefit from thicker lubricants that provide better protection.

Contamination Risks

Minimize contamination risks by choosing lubricants that are physiologically inert, tasteless, and odorless. H1 lubricants are ideal for areas where incidental contact with food might occur, ensuring safety even if small amounts of lubricant mix with food products.

Regulatory Compliance

Ensure your lubricants comply with relevant regulations. In the U.S., NSF certification is essential for food-grade lubricants. Look for NSF H1, H2, or H3 classifications depending on your needs. For international standards, check if the lubricants meet ISO 21469 requirements.

NSF Certification

NSF certification guarantees that the lubricant is safe for incidental food contact. Always verify the NSF classification on the label to ensure it meets your specific requirements. NSF H1 lubricants are suitable for incidental contact, while H2 lubricants are for non-food contact areas.

Kosher and Halal Certification

If your facility requires Kosher or Halal certification, ensure your lubricants meet these standards. Many food-grade lubricants are certified Kosher and Halal, providing additional assurance for diverse consumer bases.

By considering these factors, you can select the right food grade lubricant for your specific needs, ensuring both equipment efficiency and food safety.

In the next section, we’ll address some frequently asked questions about food grade lubricants, including how to identify them and whether common household products like Vaseline can be used as food-grade lubricants.

Frequently Asked Questions about Food Grade Lubricants

What lubricants are food-safe?

Food-safe lubricants are specifically designed to be used in food processing environments. They fall into three main categories:

  • H1 Lubricants: These are used in areas where there is incidental contact with food. They must meet stringent FDA regulations and can include synthetic or highly refined mineral oils. H1 lubricants are often labeled with phrases like “NSF H1 Registered” and “Ingredients meet FDA Regulation 178.3570.”

  • H2 Lubricants: These are used in non-food contact areas. They are typically applied to equipment parts where there is no chance of them coming into contact with food products. H2 lubricants cannot contain harmful substances like lead, mercury, or carcinogens.

  • H3 Lubricants: These are edible oils used for rust prevention on hooks, trolleys, and similar equipment. They must be safe for direct food contact.

How to know if a lubricant is food grade?

Identifying a food grade lubricant involves checking for specific characteristics and certifications:

  • Refined Mineral Oils: Food grade lubricants often use highly refined, non-staining mineral oils that are colorless, tasteless, and odorless.

  • NSF Registration: Look for the NSF mark and an H1 category code on the label. This ensures the lubricant meets safety standards for incidental food contact. For example, an H1 lubricant will have a unique registration number like H1 number 139225.

  • Label Statements: Phrases like “Food Grade,” “NSF H1 Registered,” and “Ingredients meet FDA Regulation 178.3570” indicate the product is safe for use in food processing environments.

Can I use Vaseline as a food grade lubricant?

Using Vaseline as a food grade lubricant is not recommended unless it is specifically registered as an H1 lubricant. While Vaseline is a refined petroleum jelly, it may not meet the stringent requirements for incidental food contact unless it has NSF registration. Always check for the NSF mark and H1 category code to ensure compliance with food safety standards.

In the next section, we’ll discuss the various applications of food grade lubricants and how they can improve the efficiency and safety of your food processing equipment.


At CFAB Global, we understand the critical role that food grade lubricants play in ensuring both the safety and efficiency of food processing operations. Our Machine Reliability Program is designed to provide a holistic approach to machinery maintenance. This program includes customized analysis, premium services, cutting-edge equipment, and unparalleled support.

By adopting our proven strategies, our clients experience several key benefits:

  • Productivity Increase: Optimized machinery performance leads to higher output and less downtime.
  • Downtime Reduction: Proactive solutions and rapid response ensure your operations keep moving without unexpected halts.
  • Machinery Lifespan Extension: Our preventative and maintenance strategies significantly prolong the life of your machinery components, providing a better return on investment.

For food packaging and processing solutions, we recommend the highly hygienic and flexible equipment from Beth-El Machinery Ltd. Their Hygiene Rotary Cup Filler is an excellent example of innovative machinery designed to meet high sanitary standards, ensuring your products remain uncontaminated and safe for consumption.

To learn more about how CFAB Global can help you implement effective lubrication and maintenance strategies, visit our Automated Lubrication System page.

Trust CFAB Global to keep your operations running smoothly and efficiently while ensuring compliance with food safety standards.

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Machine Reliability Specialists





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