A Complete Guide to Food Safe
Wood Stain and Sealers
During my time as a paint department manager, I had many customers ask me what type of food safe wood stain and sealer would best for things like butcher blocks, cutting boards, salad bowls, wooden utensils etc. According to George Snyder, a Product Manager with Woodcraft, “all finishes made after 1972 are food-safe when cured properly. This process can take several weeks after a film has formed”. It’s extremely important to read all labels, and follow the instructions!
Additionally, avoid oils that can spoil like vegetable oil or olive oil. These oils have a shelf life, and have an off-putting taste when used.
The products I’ve listed below are recommended by woodworkers, finishing experts and manufactures and chemists. It’s important to note that these finishes are typically provide only a minimal amount of protection. You’ll have to frequently re-apply these products to keep your wood sealed and protected.
Pure raw linseed oil is NOT the same as boiled linseed oil. Linseed oil is obtained from the dried, ripened seed of the flax plant. It is an edible oil and can be used as a nutritional supplement as a source of omega-3 fatty acids (I’m not saying you should use this as a dietary supplement). Raw linseed oil is water-repellent and dries to a semi-gloss finish.
The Walrus Oil brand has become a favorite amongst woodworkers that make things that come in contact with food. It’s made from coconut oil, beeswax, mineral oil and Vitamin E. Wood wax provides extra protection from water and moisture. The application process is incredibly simple. Just use a soft cloth to apply a thin layer of wax. Let it sit for 15 minutes and then buff it with a rag. It can be used as a standalone product, or it can be applied after applying a layer of “Cutting Board Oil”.
Pure beeswax can be used for so many different purposes because it’s natural and cost efficient! It’s a popular choice for maintaining and protecting wood surfaces that come in contact with food. Beeswax will hydrate wood, and make it shine. It is also water repellent. You can use a wood conditioner specifically formulated with beeswax, like the one by Howard’s below, or you can melt the beeswax with mineral oil and create your own. Use 1 part beeswax to 2 parts mineral oil.
Walnut oil is derived from English walnuts… who would’ve thought! Ha! Walnut oil will provide a non-toxic finish that repels water and alcohol. It will not give any aftertaste to food like some other finishes. However, walnut oil should be used with caution because it is made from a tree nut. Nut allergies are quite common.
Walnut oil can be applied a brush, cloth, or steel wool. You’ll need to allow the oil to soak in for at least 30 minutes before you wipe off the excess and you should wait 24 hours before applying another coat. Three or four coats should be sufficient.
Shellac is a food safe wood stain made from a resin secreted from the female lac bug and ethanol. It is available in a clear or amber tint. Shellac brings out the rich warmth of wood grain making surfaces look soft and natural instead of plastic. As long as shellac does doesn’t come in contact with chemicals, water or heat, the finish will last many years.
Tung oil is a base used in various other blended sealers. It will dry to a slight golden, satin tint. It’s important to use caution with tung oil because it is made from the tung tree which produces nuts. Nut allergies are quite common.
You’ll want to look for 100% pure tung oil. This finish will repel food particles, liquids and oils. Using tung oil will provide a protective waterproof finish and it doesn’t mold, darken, and it dries faster than other oils. The finish may be maintained by re-applying tung oil as needed.
Howard’s butcher block oil and conditioner are environmentally biodegradable organic waxes. Mineral oil is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Mineral Oil will prevent un-finished wood from cracking and/or drying out. Did you know that drug stores even sell mineral oil as a laxative? Make sure to read the product label and find where it says “food-safe” because some mineral oil is not safe for consumption; often used as lubricant for machinery.
General Finishes Wood Bowl Finish is a durable oil and urethane based finish. It dries to an amber color with a gloss finish. It is for interior use only and requires 3 coats for maximum durability. You can apply to raw wood, or you can apply it over an existing finish. The coating can be applied with a brush, roller, or sprayer. It will be dry to the touch in 12 hours, but should not be re-coated for at least 24 hours. It takes 30 days to fully cure, but you can begin light use within 7-10 days.
*Wood Bowl Finish is what I would consider to be a last resort. If you already have this at home, and need to seal something that food will be on, use it. However, I’d really recommend any of the other options above before using Wood Bowl Finish for food surfaces.
*Note: Walnut wood only needs 2 coats as it’s naturally oily wood.
As you can see, there are many food safe wood stain and sealer options. If you’d like information on other top-coats and sealers, click here.
I hope this post has helped you decide which food safe wood stain and sealer would be best for your situation. Make sure to follow me on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter for all of the latest! Also feel free to leave questions or comments below! I love hearing from you!