Food In Canada

Synthetic esters gain industrial acceptance

By Tyler Housel   

Business Operations Food Safety

High-viscosity synthetic esters are now approved for use in food processing applications

The food industry represents a demanding challenge for any lubricant.

It must perform the familiar functions of reducing friction, wear and corrosion, while conforming to rigorous standards to ensure food safety is never compromised.

Food safety, of course, is the first responsibility of any company that manufactures edible products. So when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) approved high-viscosity synthetic esters, a lubricant for use in food processing applications, it was considered a significant milestone because of the organization’s high standards of excellence and its reputation for producing safe high-quality food.

Synthetic esters are, in fact, now available with the NSF International HX1 approval for use in direct food contact applications. NSF International, a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization, helps the FDA classify and manage approvals for lubricants in the food industry. NSF adopted these procedures to certify lubricants as H1 and H2.


Esters, which can be defined as the reaction products of acids and alcohols, are used for flavourings. However, their use is not restricted to food – thousands of different kinds of esters are commercially produced for a broad range of applications including personal care, plastics, lubricants, textiles and pharmaceuticals.

In food, synthetic ester-based lubricants have been proven effective for continuous operation at 260°C (500°F) and show little evaporation or oxidative degradation compared to other common basestocks. These benefits make synthetic esters uniquely suited for high temperature greases, which must be made from oils that resist evaporation and are thermally stable.

Furthermore, synthetic esters are known for outstanding oxidative stability and low evaporation. Above 200°C (400°F), vegetable, mineral and PAO oils degrade too quickly to be effective. Synthetic esters are preferred in industrial and food processing lubricants when expected temperatures are between 200°C and 260°C.

Many NSF-H1 food grade greases will perform at moderate temperatures, but most cannot withstand continuous operation (20+ hours) above 200°C.  Synthetic ester base oils provide the stability necessary to lubricate up to 260°C, and are available for oils and greases that are approved for incidental food contact.

The wide industrial acceptance of synthetic esters suggests that food processing plants will benefit from the long lasting, clean lubrication they provide.

Tyler Housel is the director of the Lubricants Business for Inolex Chemical Company. He is a Certified Lubrication Specialist (CLS) with STLE and is vice-chairman of the Industrial Lubricants committee of ILMA. For more information visit

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