As the instances of allergies and food intolerances continue to rise throughout the UK, it is more important than ever for manufacturers in the food and beverage industry to clearly display all ingredients and potential allergens. With an EU regulatory deadline fast approaching, Graham Wignallat ERIKS offers some guidance on lubricant specification and the importance of getting it right.

Current figures from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) estimate that there are approximately two million people in the UK with a food allergy and many more have food intolerances. As there is no cure for food allergies, sufferers must manage their condition by avoiding certain food types altogether, hence the importance for them to make informed decisions around the food they eat. It is generally considered that any product containing less than 10ppm of the contaminant, is safe for consumption by those with allergies but for some, even trace elements can cause an allergic reaction.

The importance is compounded as a result of the EU regulation No 1169/2011, which brings together general food labelling with nutrition labelling into a single piece of legislation. While many of the changes came into force in December 2014, nutritional declarations become mandatory from December 2016.

In truth, much of the pre-packaged food industry already follows specific requirements in terms of product labelling, just as all restaurants and retailers must have a record of all ingredients and allergens present in their food – non-compliance is a criminal offence. For manufacturers however, there is a tendency to adopt a ‘catch-all’ mentality stating ‘may contain gluten’ when there is minimal risk of contamination.

The crux of the issue lies not only in the ingredients used in a product, but also the process in which it is made. Needless to say where manufacturing equipment is in use, there is a risk of contamination either from the equipment itself or the surrounding environment, which is why it is crucial that industry conduct risk assessments and identify the threats posed.

Most businesses within the food and beverage industry already adhere to the BRC Global Standards for food safety, through which the guidelines call for senior management commitment and a ‘Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points’ (HACCP) programme. With greater controls and processes in place, the responsibility to adhere to the criteria falls to both the user and to the management team – raising important issues around simplicity of process.

Industry for example, is well aware that the equipment used in the processing of food and drink require lubrication like every other manufacturing facility. Just as lubricants are required to control friction and wear-and-tear in the food processing industry, they must also deliver thermal stability and water resistance, as well as limit any contamination risk.

Where contamination is a possibility, food-grade lubricants are essential, but knowing exactly when to use each one can be a challenge. HACCP for example, requires a thorough risk assessment to understand the potential risks presented in each and every lubrication point. The greatest barrier to the use of food grade lubricants however, is cost.

Another key challenge for industry is understanding the various lubricant grading and categories – partly due to the labelling of three lubricants as food-grade. In fact H1 and 3H are the only lubricants that are safe for use where there is the potential risk of incidental food contact, and 3H where food contact is unavoidable – H2 and H3 however are not.

The importance of using the correct lubricant cannot be underestimated. Just a millilitre of contamination from an unapproved lubricant is sufficient to ban a production batch of 2000 packaging units from the shop shelves. If the problem isn’t realised fairly early on, the potential ramifications do not bear thinking about it, with loss of productivity, a complete product recall as well as the health and safety concerns associated with non-compliant products reaching consumers.

Another element to consider during the specification process is the ISO 21469 certification. Whilst it is not a new standard, launched in 2006, it has only recently begun to have some traction within the market. Crucially, the standard is designed to cover the lubricant manufacturing process, rather than specific lubricant composition. In short, it offers a further level of quality assurance to a lubricant manufacturer’s production process. It also confirms to potential customers that those who are ISO 21469-accredited can manufacture lubricants in a controlled environment, to minimise contamination risk and deliver reliable and repeatable production. Given the risk-averse nature of the food industry, this extra level of quality control can prove crucial to securing repeat business from customers.

Ultimately, in a fiercely competitive industry, where traceability is key, ERIKS works alongside the leading lubrication suppliers to ensure customers receive the best possible advice, recommendations and of course products, to meet the needs of their application and ensure production continues to run smoothly. Where safety and accountability are of paramount importance, it pays to be prepared.

The topic of food allergens and lubricants is a complex one, with so much change within the legislative landscape. When in doubt, consult the experts, seek advice and recommendations and ultimately be safe in the knowledge that when purchased through a trusted channel – full traceability and compliance are assured.

For more information about ERIKS UK and the latest vending machine offering it provides, please visit