The popularity of food-safe wood finishes has drastically increased in recent years as we have become more conscious about the high volumes of toxins surrounding us. We need to be very careful about what we’re ingesting. That’s why using food-safe wood finishes on wooden objects that come into contact with our food and our mouths is very important.
There are a variety of different food-safe finish options to choose from. Along with this, there’s a vast amount of factors to consider when choosing the right food safe wood finish for you.
Considerations To Keep In Mind
A large variety of finishes become safe to use on objects if the finish is applied correctly and if it has enough time to cure completely. Nonetheless, there are some things you need to pay close attention to when applying these finishes to wooden objects.
Oils That Can Spoil Should Be Avoided
Many recommendations suggest using vegetable oils such a sunflower and olive oil to coat wooden utensils. This is a finish that should be avoided as these types of oils are made from fat extracted from vegetables.
Due to this, these oils are going to spoil over time, as there is a shelf life. These oils don’t have the necessary materials to be long-lasting. Ultimately, using any of these oils is going to result in it not remaining on the particular surface, and it’s likely to produce an off-taste when the utensils are in use.
A common misconception is that drying time is the same as curing time. It’s not. Your finish isn’t cured once it’s dried.
Pre-made wood finishes often have the drying time listed on the label. It’s important to note that this is the recommended time regarding how long you should wait before applying any additional coats. This is the recommendation provided by the manufacturer and it’s in your best interest to follow it. The layers underneath the top layer may not be dry even if the top layer feels dry to the touch.
These pre-made products also list each product’s curing time. This is the suggested time that you should wait before using the item that’s been finished. Once an item has been cured, the surface and the deepest penetration spots are dry.
Levels Of Toxicity
The application process is the first level of concern when involving toxicity. It would be best to have adequate ventilation in the workspace where you choose to apply the finish on the object. Moreover, it would also be extremely beneficial to purchase some kind of breathing protection.
A shared thought among many woodworkers is that dust masks can be labeled as sufficient protection. This is true if you want to prevent wood particles from going into your nose and lungs. However, these dust masks can’t protect you against the harmful chemical vapors produced by the wood finishes. It’s highly suggested that you purchase a specially designed respirator to filter out these toxic chemicals from the air you breathe in.
Other than the toxicity present in the air, another concern is the toxicity levels on the treated items used for toys and food. The least toxic finishes that you can use are boiled linseed oil and tung oil. The next best option after these finishes is Shellacs, along with water-based finishes. Lastly, the most toxic finishes that can be used are finishes like lacquers.
No matter what type of finish, most of these products are safe to be used on wooden items. However, this safety is dependent on whether you apply the finish precisely as stated by the manufacturer, and that you wait until the item is entirely cured before you start using it.
How Does Heat Affect The Finish?
There are two concerns that you need to keep in mind. The first concern is the recommended temperature range the finish should be stored at. Chemicals can be negatively affected if the product is stored at a temperature too low. The result of this occurring is that the chemicals break down. This is the same for chemicals that are kept at a higher temperature. This may result in the product combusting. Following these temperature guidelines also helps to yield the best results from the finish.
Another concern is the temperature that the utensils are going to be used at. Items that are used for cooking, such as spatulas and spoons, are exposed to scorching surfaces. It would be best to make sure that the particular finish you choose can withstand these intense temperatures without melting or breaking down as you use them for cooking. You can easily verify this information by reading the label provided on the product.
Can The Finish Hold Up?
Some cases require you to apply a finish that creates a hard surface. However, there are other cases where this should be avoided altogether. Finishing a cutting board is one of those cases. A wooden object that is going to be hammered at or cut on is likely to require a softer finish that features a limited amount of flaking. This is to prevent the flakes of the finish clinging to your food. The shape of the item plays a role in deciding the durability of the finish. Utensils and boards with sharp edges are likely to wear out sooner than that of boards and utensils with a rounded or beveled edge.
Items that have indentations or grooves can also cause problems. This is because these imperfections can become a collection point for grease or bacteria to build up. Softer finishes are more likely to become susceptible to these collection points occurring. This is due to softer finishes being more permeable than that of harder coatings. The unwanted build-up is more than likely going to penetrate the surface. In this case, you are going to have to strip down the finish and re-apply it, as it’s impossible to clean off this build-up once the penetration occurs.
The Best Finishes That Are Food Safe
There is an incredible amount of different finishes that are available today. The ones listed below are seen as some of the best food-safe finishes and should be considered, especially when dealing with wooden objects that need to be food-safe.
These are oils that are often made from distilled petroleum or other mineral sources. This oil highlights the natural look of the wood. This product provides woodworkers the ability to fill smaller pores and imperfections while achieving a natural look. Anyone needing wood stain would benefit from using wood mineral oil.
Mineral oil is odorless and won’t add any taste to food items that it comes into contact with. An added benefit is that mineral oils are usually available at a lower price point than most finishes.
This oil can work very effectively as an overcoat on a water-based wood stain. However, this should not be applied if the wood stain is oil-based.
Mineral oil finishes are available in two different products. The first is crude mineral oil, and it’s mainly used in industrial settings. This particular mineral oil should be avoided. The best type of mineral oil to use is refined mineral oil. This is since the FDA lists it as safe to be used in food and cosmetics.
Bayes High-Performance Food Grade Mineral Oil
The Bayes High-Performance Mineral Oil is made from the highest quality food-grade oil. Using this oil helps to nourish and preserve all of your wooden cutting boards, accessories, and utensils for several years.
Without using any treatment, your possessions are likely to crack as ordinary washing can dry the wood out. To achieve the best results, you are recommended to apply it daily for the first week of acquiring a new item. After this, you should use the finish once a week for 30 days. Once you’ve completed this, you should maintain applying treatments to the items once a month.
- This product is cruelty-free and has a Leaping Bunny certificate
- The oil is eco-friendly and non-toxic
- It provides a natural look to the wood
- It’s easy to use
- It isn’t compatible to be used as an overcoat on oil-based wood stain
Beeswax is a trusted product that has been used for centuries as a polish and finishes for wood. The natural element that is provided by the product lacks harsh chemicals. This is one reason as to why woodworkers prefer to use this product.
One downfall is that these products require a more immense amount of work to use than other finishes. The process involves having to melt the beeswax so that it becomes soft enough to apply. The beeswax tends to harden fairly quickly. For that reason, many people mix beeswax with oil to increase the working time. A commonly used oil to mix it with is tung oil.
Something else that you can add to the beeswax is a lemon essential oil, as it provides a pleasant scent. There are also claims that adding lemon essential oil offers an antibacterial benefit. This is advantageous for wooden objects that are food-related.
While beeswax does produce a decent protection level, it doesn’t penetrate as deeply into wood than that of other products. The best protection can be ensured by regularly re-applying the product.
As this is a natural product, it holds non-toxic qualities that most people can use safely. A unique feature of beeswax is that it feels silky smooth. This is a quality that you can’t find with either smooth or hard varnishes. The beeswax also causes the wood to take on a warmer tone that highlights its natural color when applied and buffed.
Sky Organics Organic White Beeswax Pellets
This beeswax is specially formulated to encourage quick melting. The Sky Organics beeswax is 100 percent pure and USDA organic while being responsibly sourced.
The natural aroma of beeswax isn’t tarnished, as no synthetic ingredients or additives have been included in the final product. These Sky Organics Organic White Beeswax Pellets are triple filtered, so you can feel good using it as a finish as it provides food safe wood.
- This product includes a quick melting feature
- The product is safe to use
- Creates a warm tone that works well against the natural highlights of the wood
- 100 percent pure and USDA organic
- The product isn’t easy to apply
This is a finish that is often used by woodworkers that are French. Decorative pieces can be applied with walnut oil that’s mixed with mineral oil. However, you stick to using walnut oil in its pure form when wishing to finish food-safe wood.
Food utensils often need around six coats of walnut oil to provide optimal protection. This type of finish provides exceptional protection against liquids such as alcohol and water. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that this product can negatively affect those that suffer from food allergies.
It features the ability to effectively penetrate the wood grain and can be used for highlighting multi-colored wood. Although touch-ups are required, walnut oil maintenance is less when compared to other products such as beeswax.
La Tourangelle Roasted Walnut Oil
The best quality ingredients are put into this product to ensure a premium taste. The brand behind this product is committed to sustainability and promotes this in how the business makes its products. The packaging footprint is minimal, while the walnuts used to make the oil are produced from regenerative agriculture.
The La Tourangelle Roasted Walnut Oil should be stored at a temperature ranging between medium to high. This means that the product can effectively be used on cooking utensils that are exposed to high temperatures. This product also provides food-safe wood stains.
- The product is sustainability sourced
- It can be used to finish utensils that are exposed to high heat
- The product can deeply penetrate the wood
- The product provides a wood food-safe finish
- The upkeep required is less than that of other oils
- It is extracted from food products which can make it spoil and become a rancid oil
Carnauba wax is made from the Brazilian palm tree and considered to provide a food-safe finish for wood. The carnauba wax is usually mixed with beeswax. This is because achieving a consistent look is difficult when using pure Carnauba oil.
The best coverage possible is ensured after two to three coats. Common with most waxes, the carnauba wax doesn’t penetrate wood grain. This material has very low maintenance, but it does need to be re-applied over time. The features of using carnauba wax are that it creates a shine that’s quite like satin and provides a soft touch.
Better Shea Butter Organic Carnauba Wax Flakes
The Better Shea Butter Organic Carnauba Wax Flakes is a food-grade product that’s pure and organic. This is the perfect finish for hardwood finishes as it’s the hardest natural wax food-grade wood sealer.
The Carnauba wax flakes can be used on their own or are often used among an oil finish or shellac. It’s recommended to apply the carnauba wax after the oil finishes or shellac have been allowed to cure completely.
You can use the carnauba wax to easily apply to salad bowl finishes along with other object finishes. The application is very forgiving while being non-toxic and results in food-safe wood.
- The product ensures wood finishes that are food safe
- Wood gains a satin-like shine and is soft to touch
- It’s perfect for items that need a hard, film finish
- It’s a vegetable-based wax which means it has an expiration date and can become rancid
Pure Tung Oil
This is a popular oil finish that is made from tung tree nuts. Pure tung oil has many benefits. One fantastic benefit of making use of this particular oil is its durable finish. Along with this, the oil hardens the protective layer on the wood surface. Moreover, tung oil is extremely low maintenance.
Decent water resistance is provided, which helps make sure no food particles get stuck in the pores on the wood surface. The process of applying these products is often used to make food safe wood finishes. Re-application needs to be done every 30 days to offer safe wood finishes.
When choosing a tung oil, it’s essential to purchase pure ones. Vanish and oil blends, and wipe products generally contain solvents. You should avoid these products if you want to make sure that there are wood finishes food-safe qualities.
Hope’s 100 Percent Pure Tung Oil
This product is easy-to-use and can be hand-rubbed onto all fine woods to create the perfect finish. All you need to do is wipe down the oil and allow it to cure under room temperature conditions. The oil becomes part of the wood itself. It’s exceptionally permeable and penetrates deep into the wood grain, and cures to non-oily solid that’s flexible on the wood surface.
The beauty of this product is that it’s known to last longer than that of wax-based products and mineral oil. This product would work correctly as oil for butcher block. Moreover, it provides practical oil finishes for any cutting board.
- A flexible wood finish for boards
- Long-lasting with minimal coats needed to ensure adequate protection
- FDA approved as a non-toxic oil
- Useful as butchers block oil
- Provides an excellent cutting board finish
- Can’t be used on cooking utensils as the oil can’t withstand high temperatures
Linseed oil is one of the oldest wood finishes that dates back to the ancient Egyptians who used it for their wooden items. This product is supplanted by flax seeds along with other products in America. Yet, linseed is still in-use in European areas.
This type of oil is wildly popular among beginners as it’s easy-to-use and provides wood finishes safe for food. A common question many people ask, “Is boiled linseed oil food safe?” Yes, it’s safe to use, but it takes longer to cure than other finishes.
You should also pay close attention to the fact that linseed oil doesn’t provide the best protection against water, as well as scratching can be caused easily and be an issue unless you cover the wood surface with several layers.
Sunnyside Boiled Linseed Oil
This product helps the oil to penetrate deeply into the wood fibers. The grain patterns and natural wood tones are enhanced from making use of this linseed oil wood stain.
The Sunnyside Boiled Linseed Oil is specially designed to have a quick-drying effect. Depending on the wood finish conditions, the oil can dry within 12 and 18 hours of partaking in the application process. The appearance of this product is a clear coat food-safe linseed oil and is excellent to use on a board or other kinds of wooden items.
- Easy-to-use and penetrates very deeply making it food safe wood
- The wood finish enhances the natural tones and grain pattern
- Several layers are needed to form a protective cover
Fractionated Coconut Oil
Fractionated coconut oil has been refined so intensely that LCT (long-chain triglycerides) have been removed. This process prevents the oil from going rancid. This effectively means that the coconut oil expiry date is no longer existent, as it can’t spoil. This is a finish that’s non-toxic and establishes food safe wood.
This food-safe wood finish is applied in the same way as any other product that’s vegetable-based. The overall effect this oil gives is softer than most food-safe wood finishes. It’s great for items such as chopping boards as the wood finish prevents chipping. It’s also seen as an economical alternative.
Verdana Organic Fractionated Coconut Oil
This product is USDA certified as 100 percent organic coconut oil. It’s colorless and odorless that is easy-to-use and remains liquid at room temperature. The product is perfect to use on boards and any other wooden materials. Due to its non-toxic feature, this product can provide a food-safe wood finish.
- The product prevents chipping
- It creates a food-safe wood finish
- It’s easy-to-use and can be stored at room temperature
- Can’t be of use to cooking utensils that are exposed to high temperatures
Shellacs are a popular method of application and have French origins. This product is wildly popular with traditional woodworkers. Pre-made shellacs are available, although it’s highly recommended to mix and make use of your own. Homemade shellacs are seen as better as you can store it for longer when compared to pre-made options. Added to this, making use of homemade shellacs helps avoid waxes and other materials that cause adhesion issues.
However, this wood stain requires a lot of effort to cover the wood evenly. An added feature involving shellacs is that it’s used in candy production. This ensures that you have a food-safe wood finish.
Zinsser Bulls Eye Shellac
This is an effective wood stain that helps provide a food-safe wood finish. It’s easy-to-use and helps preserve the wood. What makes this product so convenient is that it features a quick-drying formula that allows you to re-coat in under 45 minutes.
- Wood stain provides a traditional finish
- Formula designed to dry the finish incredibly fast
- The best shellacs are homemade and making these from scratch can be time-consuming
Finishes You Should Use With Caution
Polyurethane used many years ago is different from the food-safe polyurethane available today. Polyurethane reduces the drying time required for a complete cure by using metallic driers in the formula. Before this, polyurethane contained lead to reduce the drying time. However, it’s been banned for several years.
A commonly asked question: “Is polyurethane food safe?” There isn’t any evidence to prove otherwise. Nonetheless, it’s essential to keep in mind that all finishes can be unsafe if not cured correctly before use. For that reason, application guidelines need to be followed precisely to ensure that the polyurethane finish remains food-safe and provides a protective covering for wooden kitchen utensils and cookware.
Applying a lacquer finish requires the longest curing time when compared to other types of finishes. Lacquer coating is food-safe when the layer has fully matured. This finish doesn’t penetrate the wood grain, as it can be classified as a food-safe sealant silicone that sits on top of the wooden surface.
This is the preferred finish for wooden items that aren’t going to be roughed up. Such things can include serving trays. Applying this finish to a cutting board isn’t recommended as it tends to flake.
Although there are a few vegetable oils mentioned above as possible wood finishes, most vegetable oils should be used cautiously or avoided altogether. There are a variety of reasons as to why vegetable oils should be avoided.
One reason is that these products tend to thicken on the surface of utensils and create a cloudy appearance. This results in the wood surface having an off-feel. Another reason is that applying vegetable oils can discolor your wooden items. Finally, these oils can become rancid and cause your wooden utensils to smell bad.
A vast amount of finishes can be used to add a food-safe protective layer to your wooden items. Each one has its own benefits, and some finishes can be used in conjunction with one another to provide both of the products’ benefits while combating the adverse effects.
The reality is that most finishes are no longer made with extremely harmful chemicals, such as lead. These products provide a protective coating that’s food-safe when appropriately applied and allowed to cure completely.
It’s highly recommended to try out a vast amount of finishes so that you can establish an idea of which ones work best for each of your wooden objects.