Food-grade lubricants must perform the same technical functions as any other lubricant: provide protection against wear, friction, corrosion and oxidation, dissipate heat and transfer power, be compatible with rubber and other sealing materials, as well as provide a sealing effect in some cases.
In addition, different applications within the food and drugs business demand that lubricants resist degradation from food products, chemicals and water/steam, must exhibit a neutral behavior toward plastics and elastomers, and have the ability to dissolve sugars. These oils must also comply with food/health and safety regulations, as well as be physiologically inert, tasteless, odorless and internationally approved.
Lubricants can be subjected to intense environmental contaminants. A corn-milling environment generates significant dust. Although not as hard as silica-based dust, it still presents a problem for filtration. A meat plant requires stringent steam cleaning at all times, so the risk of water contamination is high. Some plants experience as much as 15 percent by volume of water in their gear oils.
Another aspect of lubrication contamination that poses a risk to food-grade lubricants is the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and fungi. While these can be a risk in industrial environments, the opportunity for contamination in the food-production environment is even greater.