While they protect your projects from the elements, wood finishes contain different chemicals. These chemicals can be hazardous to your health.
So, is it safe to coat a cutting board or butcher block with a wood stain or sealer? Lucky for you, most commercial finishes are safe once it attains full curing and drying.
After endless consultations with finishing experts, chemists, and woodworkers, I’ve come up with several food-safe finishes.
This post recommends the best food-safe wood stain and sealer and a buyer’s guide to help you settle for the best.
Is Wood Stain Food Safe?
Wood stains are toxic during the application and drying process. Therefore, they only become food-safe after curing.Yet, most wood stains aren’t tested for food safety but comply with FDA’s food safety requirements. As a result, please don’t assume they’re all food safe or food-grade.
The key to finding a food-safe wood stain is identifying the oil type you plan to use. For example, you can use lighter oils such as tung oil and linseed on raw wood. They don’t run the risk of discoloring the surface once they dry.
Easy to Use - Tung oil is a natural oil recognized by craftsmen to offer the ultimate hand-rubbed finish for all fine woods; just wipe on and allow the oil to cure at room temperature
Permeates - Unlike other finishes that form a film on the wood’s surface, tung oil penetrates deep into the wood fibers, cures to a flexible non-oily solid, and becomes part of the wood itself
Protects - Resistant to moisture, alcohol, oil, and everyday wear for lasting beauty and protection; lasts many times longer than mineral oil and wax based products
Multi Use - Amazing results on almost any surface that will allow the oil to penetrate - new unfinished wood, weathered wood, stripped wood, concrete floors and countertops, even brick, stone, and cast iron
Great for Food Contact Surfaces - Since tung oil is considered non-toxic when dry, it is great for cutting boards, butcher blocks, countertops, wooden bowls, wooden utensils, and more
Hope’s 100% pure tung oil is the perfect food-safe finish for surfaces that come into direct food contact. Since it’s non-toxic when dry, it’s suitable for finishing Charcuterie boards, cutting boards, countertops, wooden utensils, and more.
It’s also a popular drying oil that has been in use for centuries in China. The oil, extracted from the tung tree’s seeds, features waterproofing capabilities. As a result, it’s used to waterproof boats, among other wooden projects.
As is typical with all other tung oil products, you require patience when applying this food-safe wood finish. You’ll want to apply a thin layer and wait 24 hours before applying subsequent coats.
Besides being environmentally friendly, this product includes natural properties that make it food safe. Unlike other food-grade wood sealers, which form a filming layer on the surface, this tung oil penetrates deeply into the wood.
With Hope’s tung oil, you can protect your wood projects from water, oil, alcohol, and daily wear. Unfortunately, while it’s more durable than shellac products and promises longer-lasting protection, it takes longer to dry.
This hand-rubbed finish is also easy to use and works for all fine woods. During application, wipe it on the surface and allow it to cure at room temperature.
Besides delivering a protective and waterproof finish, this product doesn’t mold and darken. However, you’ll have to maintain it regularly by re-applying the oil as required.
This food-safe wood sealer is derived from beeswax. It is non-toxic and food-grade, making it suitable for protecting and maintaining surfaces that come into contact with food. Use it on bamboo and wood cutting boards, utensils, salad bowls, and countertops.
While the product works well on most surfaces, ensure that you keep it in a cool area to prevent melting the wax in heat. Besides making cleaning easier, applying this finish covers knife marks and prevents stains.
Besides being an affordable finishing option, pure beeswax is versatile for various purposes since it’s natural. Applying this natural cutting board oil will hydrate your wood projects and make them shine.
Moreover, it features waterproofing properties that allow it to penetrate deeply into wood to protect it from water. In turn, this prevents your projects from drying and cracking.
This product is also easy to use and comes with a push applicator cap and squeeze bottle. This makes maintenance a walk in the park.
With its lifetime quality, a single bottle of this natural wood wax and conditioner can last several years. Apply the finish every 5-6 weeks (or as necessary) to add new life to your wooden accessories.
Finally, this product is locally manufactured. It’s made in the US, with the highest quality standards.
This food-grade mineral oil by Ultrapro is the ideal finish for rehydrating wood projects without leaving an oily residue on the surface.
In addition, this non-toxic, non-drying oil is perfect for surfaces that come into contact with food. Use it on butcher block tables, cutting blocks, and salad bowls.
While the oil is odorless, it only becomes food grade once it attains full curing. As a result, allow the surfaces to dry overnight before applying the wooden product.
Unfortunately, this finish is less durable compared to competitor brands. Subsequently, it would help if you recoated as often as monthly to continue protecting the wood from damage. Failure to which, the coat will become brittle and crack.
So, if you settle for this option, I recommend keeping a bottle on hand for all maintenance needs. Besides the mandatory monthly maintenance, this non-drying food-grade clear coat is a great non-toxic wood finish.
Moreover, this mineral oil is versatile and suits various applications. You can use it in other industries, including food, construction, beauty, and automotive.
Lastly, UltraPro’s food-grade mineral oil is unscented and NSF compliant. This ensures that it protects salad bowls, spoons, and wooden toys.
As the name implies, pure raw linseed requires no refinement. The product comes from ripened flax seeds.
Applying Sunnyside’s pure linseed oil protects your wooden projects from the elements. These elements include wear and tear, sun, and water. This makes it suitable for use in both outdoor and indoor projects.
Moreover, this food-safe linseed oil works on raw wood only. It penetrates deep into the wood, offering long-lasting protection. Also, it delivers a quality semi-gloss finish for wood furniture and antiques.
However, it is a slow drying option, requiring 2-4 days to cure fully. Therefore, you’ll want to take care of the product to ensure it dries fully during this time.
This slow drying allows the oil to penetrate deeply into the wood fibers. With this food-safe finish, you can enhance your projects’ water repellency and weather resistance without endangering your health.
Unlike most other options, you can add this finish directly to oil-based paints and stains. This way, you can achieve a beautiful, protective gloss finish.
Note that pure raw linseed is different from boiled linseed oil. While they’re both suitable for sealing unfinished wood and reviving faded, weathered wood, Linseed Oil takes longer to dry in its purest form.
Moreover, boiled linseed oil isn’t suitable for wood projects that require food-grade sealers.
Tried & True varnish is a food-safe finish suitable for cutting boards, butcher blocks, and other wood surfaces that come into direct contact with food.
However, when picking this stain, ensure that you get the fractioned or distilled variation. This is the refined version that won’t go rancid.
This product comprises a natural pine resin finish and superior penetrating linseed oil. Thus, it’s an ideal option if you’re looking for a high-quality finish for interior furniture, countertops, and tables.
Moreover, with its high resin content, varnish oil is a fine furniture finish that delivers an attractive semi-gloss finish. Each coat guarantees durability and a gloss build-up.
While it takes longer to dry, this hand-rubbed finish becomes more durable and harder as it cures and ages. Additionally, it offers wide coverage of up to 1000 square ft. per gallon. To achieve this coverage, I recommend using a lint-free cloth during application.
Besides being ideal for use on unfinished wood, this natural resin varnish promises excellent scratch and abrasion resistance. In addition, it is a food-grade product that enhances the aesthetics and durability of wooden projects.
REVITALIZING FORMULA BLEND prevents drying and cracking of hardwoods and bamboo. Great for restaurant cutting boards, great for home kitchens even chef cutting boards. This is the safest conditioner and will rejuvenate and revitalizes cutting boards. Great size for restaurants and industrial kitchens.
HOWARD BUTCHER BLOCK OILS ARE TASTELESS AND ODORLESS. Vitamin E cutting boards will absorb oils and great at protecting the lifespan of the wood. Apply the butcher block oil to the board and the ingredients penetrates into the wood surface. Formula is great for wooden utensils. Prevent cracking and drying of unfinished wood
Howard's BUTCHER BLOCK CONDITIONER IS THE SAFEST butcher block conditioner on the market.
FOOD GRADE MINERAL OIL with Vitamin E. Howard Natural oils provide another level of protection High quality pure natural food grade mineral oil Ideal for salad bowls wooden spoons and wooden toys Benefits
Howard’s butcher block oil and conditioner is an eco-friendly, biodegradable organic finish. Besides being odorless, the product is colorless and tasteless. Thus, it’s safe for sealing surfaces that come into direct contact with food.
Moreover, applying this mineral oil to unfinished wood will ensure its longevity. Additionally, it rehydrates the wood, preventing the surface from cracking or drying out. With this finish, you’ll have a durable surface with a satin sheen.
It also features a revitalizing formula blend that is great for restaurant and home kitchen cutting boards. Besides rejuvenating cutting boards, this is a food-safe conditioner that’s FDA-compliant.
Howard butcher block oils are great at enhancing the lifespan of wood surfaces. Apply the butcher block oil to the board and allow the ingredients to penetrate the wood surface. Moreover, this formula works great on wooden utensils.
Buyer’s Guide: How To Choose The Best Food Safe Wood Stain And Sealer
With all these choices, choosing the best food-safe wood stain and sealer can be a hard nut to crack. Fortunately, food-safe finishes don’t feature a wide range of variations. Here is a guide that’ll help you settle for the best option for your project;
Penetrating Oil Vs. Surface Sealer
Penetrating oils are your best bet if you want a finish that’ll soak into the wood and offer protection from the inside. While they’re easier to apply, they offer less protection than surface sealer finishes. However, they deliver a more natural look and feel.
On the other hand, surface sealers, also known as film finishes, remain on the surface and act as a barrier. Moreover, it leaves a layer that you can recoat for additional protection. Also, as you’d expect, it’s more protective than penetrating oils.
However, they can be tricky to apply, especially without the right woodworking experience. A good rule of thumb is to use surface sealers on projects subject to more physical abuse, moisture, wear, and tear, or harsh cleaning agents.
Penetrating finishes will work fine for decorative pieces and projects that don’t require additional protection, such as toys and frames. They accentuate the wood grain and deliver a beautiful satin finish.
Drying vs. Non-Drying Oil finishes
These two categories fall under penetrating oils. A drying oil typically undergoes polymerization- a process where it cures and turns solid- when it comes in contact with oxygen.
As a result, the curing process begins immediately after applying the finish onto a wood surface. Common drying oils include tung oil, walnut oil, and linseed oil.
In contrast, a non-drying oil remains wet indefinitely. Subsequently, this oil type is more of a treatment and not a true finish. Since it doesn’t cure, it can wash off over time. . Common non-drying oils include mineral oil, coconut oil, and vegetable oil.
Pick A Trusted Brand.
Regardless of the product’s nature, you’ll want a food-safe finish if your project comes into direct food contact. As a result, settle for reputable brands with a history of manufacturing food-safe products.
Finally, before using a wood stain, go through the instructions and properties to ensure it is food grade.
Wood Projects Needing a Food Grade Wood Finish
Here are the main project types that require a food-safe wood finishes;
Kitchen utensils- They include bowls, spoons, platters, and cooking sticks
Raw meat and food preparation surfaces- They include cutting boards and butcher blocks
Eat-on/ food surfaces- They include bar tops, counters, and tables
So, if your project fits in any of these categories, it would be best to use a food-safe wood stain.
Is There A Wood Stain That Is Food Safe?
Shellac, secreted by the female Indian lac bug, is a common food-safe wood stain. Moreover, it is highly water-resistant.
Is There A Food-Safe Stain For Butcher Block Countertops?
Howard Butcher Block Oil and Conditioner is specially formulated for use on wooden butcher blocks and cutting boards. Moreover, it is suitable for salad bowls and other applications requiring a food-safe wood finish. Besides being easy to apply and maintain, it’s non-toxic and safe for direct food contact when fully cured.
Is It Safe To Use Stain On A Cutting Board?
You shouldn’t stain a cutting board. Instead, use natural oils to enhance the natural color of various hardwood species. Wood stains contain toxic pigments and dyes that could contaminate food.
How To Stain And Seal A Cutting Board
Pour a food-safe wood stain onto a clean and dry rag. Next, apply the oil liberally to your cutting boards, working on the direction of the wood grain. Continue applying the mineral oil until you cover the entire board surface, remembering to coat the bottom and sides of the board.
Is Minwax Stain Food Safe?
Minwax stains don’t present any known hazard. However, no finish is food safe until it has undergone full curing. A good rule for full curing is 30 days at room temperature.