kosher food lubricants

by Saurabh Lawate and Rob Profilet (Published in Compoundings  • Vol. 57 No. 10)

Horror stories of unsafe food products have peppered the headlines in recent months. This is particularly true of foods produced in China, where the regulatory framework is quite loose. Tales of such things as heavy metals in vegetables have made news in the Chinese media for several years. But pet deaths in the U.S. drew world attention to and heightened awareness of unsafe food and the fact that it can harm or even kill us.

No food manufacturer wants to tarnish its reputation or brand by having its name splashed across newspapers for producing unhealthy food. Add to that the risk of litigation and regulatory action, and the picture isn’t pretty. This is why companies in the food and beverage industry insist on quality in every step of their processes. One place they will look for assurances of quality is to their suppliers of food grade greases and lubricants. To provide those assurances, food-grade lubricant manufacturers will likely have to clear these five hurdles:

Hurdle 1: Formulating Kosher Food-Grade Lubricants

Formulating these lubes can be challenging. Synthetic lubricants contain a variety of components that must be carefully balanced to deliver the required performance profile. For hydraulic systems and oils used as industrial lubricants, this translates into protecting against wear, rust, and corrosion; preventing foam; separating air quickly to avoid pump cavitation, and being compatible with seals and other parts.

At the same time, to qualify as food-grade in the food industry, additives must meet Federal regulatory criteria outlined in 21 CFR 178.3570 from the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA regulates food safety and regulations in the food and beverage industry. This specific section gives a definition of lubricants with incidental food contact. This can include synthetic lubricants used on food processing equipment, such as food processors. The pool of available additives that meet this threshold is severely limited compared to additives that other industrial lubricant formulations use.

Hurdle 2: NSF Product Approval

Manufacturers are aware of and strive to use NSF International-approved additives. NSF International, The Public Health and Safety Company™, is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization. NSF manages a registration process for nonfood compounds, including lubricants used in and around food processing. While not a regulatory requirement, third-party certification from NSF is becoming an industry standard in the United States and globally. For details on the certification process, visit
There are three main categories of lubricants used in the food industry:

1. Lubricants that can have incidental food contact.

Manufacturers use these on processing equipment, tanks, equipment, machinery lubrication, and in locations where the lubricated part is potentially exposed to food. The lubricants used need to be foodsafe due to the potential for incidental contact and contamination.

2. Lubricants with no possibility of contacting edible products.

These may have fewer restrictions, especially when considering Kosher Laws. As they have no possibility of contact with food, they have far less risk involved.

3. Lubricants or soluble oils applied to hooks, trolleys, and similar equipment.

These kinds of lubricants help clean and prevent rust in food processing equipment. The portions of equipment that may have contact with food products must be clean and free of mineral oil before reuse.

Hurdle 3: Official Kosher Certification

In order to sell and produce Kosher food-grade lubricant, manufactures must have a Kosher certification on top of NSF registration. Both are quite involved. Kosher describes food that meets Jewish kashrut laws. There are a variety of organizations that can provide kosher certification, but the process is substantially similar. Contrary to popular misconception, a rabbi or other religious official does not bless the food to make it kosher. However, the kosher certification process does involve a rabbi examining food. The rabbi also examines the food preparation. The rabbi wants to be sure that the company follows all kashrut laws based on the Torah.

Basically, these kosher laws designate foods that meet guidelines, and those that don’t. These laws also outline the proper way to slaughter and prepare animals. When it comes to how these laws could apply to food-grade lubricant manufacturers seeking kosher certification, the inspecting rabbi will determine: if the lube contains or comes in contact with any products from prohibited animals, such as rabbits, pigs, or shellfish; if any dairy products have or could come in contact with a lubricant containing approved meat products; and if the equipment involved in the process has touched non-kosher food or products or contacted both dairy and meat products.

This is a very general overview and not meant to include every requirement for kosher products. Certification requires a third-party facility inspection of products, materials, sensitive ingredients, preparation process, sanitation, specification sheets, labels, flow charts, cleaning procedures, etc. Companies issue certifications either for one year or for each batch produced, depending on the product. The inspector will be looking for assurances that the lubricant contains: no pork or swine or its byproducts; no blood or its byproducts;  and no products where the origins (animal or vegetable) are unknown, such as gelatin, shortening, lard, fat, lecithin, emulsifiers, mono and di-glycerides, and enzymes. Keep in mind that this is not meant to be an all-inclusive summary.

Hurdle 4: Manufacturing Equipment & Best Practices

Best practices manufacturing is no picnic. Manufacturers should have dedicated tanks, lines, and systems. And a batch tracking system is essential in case there is an incident requiring a recall. It is not unusual for a manufacturing protocol for food-grade lubricants to include such requirements as draining, flushing, sealing, purging, venting, rinsing, and closing the system to keep it clean and separate from other lubricant-producing systems. Among other things, this vigilance will help ensure that the lubes do not become contaminated or pick up undesirable odors, tastes, or colors that can contaminate food.

Hurdle 5: The Food-Grade Lubricant Market

The global market for food-grade lubricants is quite small. The total market is about $26 million annually, so the cost of performance testing and scaling up to produce them often is another barrier. To some, it might make sense to outsource this manufacturing to a company that specializes in food-grade lube manufacturing and avoid all the headaches and associated costs. But for those who choose to enter the food-grade lubricants race and who clear all the hurdles, the rewards can be worth it. They will be able to differentiate their products from their competitors, something everyone in the lubricants business strives for.

Industrial Kosher

The scope of Kosher Law cannot be adequately captured on one page. Industrial Kosher offers services for many businesses in Texas and across the South. This includes those in the chemical, manufacturing, transportation, and food service industries. From the production of glycerin, the storage of food, and transportation for a wide variety of products, Industrial Kosher is helping businesses find cost-efficient kosher solutions. They also work hard to maintain the environment the company is working in. Industrial Kosher prides itself on being able to address the unique needs of every company. If you’re looking for more information on kosher certification in an industrial field, contact us today to learn more.