Our kitchens are filled with tools and furniture that are made from wood: the kitchen table, our countertops, cutting boards, or salad bowls.
When your wooden items need to touch food directly, or sometimes accidentally (as you have probably eaten food off the table once or twice) using a food-safe wood sealant is the key to protecting your own health and your family’s.
So, what are the best food safe wood sealants? The best food safe wood sealants are not only free of toxic chemicals but also protect your wood from moisture, heat, rot, and wear and tear. It should also last a long time before the need for reapplication.
In this article, let’s find out what the best food-safe wood sealants are and how you can use them in your kitchen and other uses in and around your home.
Why Use A Food Grade Wood Sealer?
If your wooden item needs to touch food regularly, or sometimes accidentally, then using a food-safe wood sealer to seal those wooden items is probably a good idea.
Think: your wooden bowls, cutting boards, utensils, but also your kitchen table and countertops.
If you have young children at home, it’s probably a good idea to seal their wooden toy blocks with a food-safe sealant since children tend to put everything in their mouths. Sealing their wooden toys will make the toys easier to clean and protect them from deterioration.
Since wood is a porous surface that can absorb moisture, sealing the wood protects it as well. You don’t want your salad dressing to be absorbed by your wooden bowl over time, do you? Sealing the wood can protect it from becoming contaminated by the liquids in your food, cracking or staining it.
There are a ton of wood sealers out there, but are they all safe to handle food? Let’s take a look at our buying guide below.
Penetrating Oil Vs. Surface Sealer
There are two main types of wood finishes, penetrating oil and surface sealers.
As the name suggests, the penetrating oil can be absorbed into the wood and maintain the wood’s natural finish. Since wood is porous, the penetrating oil takes advantage of this fact and “feeds” the wood from within. A lot of penetrating oil can be used to restore old wood by adding more moisture to nourish the wood.
There are two main types of penetrating oil: drying and non-drying. A drying oil undergoes a process where it turns solid after being applied to a wood surface and exposed to oxygen.
This is known as polymerization, and because of this process, drying oil can be quite a decent food-safe wood finish. Your common drying oils are tung oil, walnut oil, linseed oil. After drying, the wood can resist stain and moisture, which protects it from cracking or warping.
Non-drying oil, on the other hand, stays wet forever. Think: coconut oil, sunflower oil, or olive oil. A common concern with using non-drying oil is because they are often plant-based, they can go rancid after a while.
So, if you want to finish your wood with coconut oil, you won’t be able to use the coconut oil from your kitchen, but you’ll have to opt for a special formula that doesn’t go bad.
A very popular non-drying oil is mineral oil (or white oil), which is often used to maintain butcher blocks, but they will need to be reapplied very often to retain the level of protection.
A surface sealer is a type of product that stays on the surface of the wood and dries hard, leaving a protective layer that can be built up for added protection. Surface sealers are quite effective in protecting your wood against moisture, as well as wear and tear.
Popular surface sealers are shellac, polyurethane, lacquer, or wax. They essentially form a film around your wood surface to protect it from moisture or scratches. This type of sealer works well with tabletops and countertops since they are quite easy to clean up.
Whether a wood sealant is “food-safe” is a topic of debate among woodworkers. This is because technically, all wood sealants that are sold nowadays are food-safe once the sealant has completely cured.
Wood sealants used to be made with very strong, very toxic chemicals that are not food-safe even after curing. However, after some health concerns were raised, virtually all wood sealants are no longer made with toxic chemicals that can damage your health.
So, a lot of woodworkers will tell you that you can use any wood sealant on the market and use it to handle food after the sealant has cured.
Curing time is different from drying time. If the sealant is dry to the touch, but you can still smell it, then it’s not completely cured. When the sealant is cured, all the solvents in the sealant have evaporated completely, and the hard surface remaining is safe to come in contact with food.
However, “food-safe” doesn’t mean that the sealant is safe to touch all kinds of food. A lot of wood sealants do not react well with high heat. It’s also not safe to handle alcohol.
Whether it’s true that all wood sealants are food-safe is definitely a topic of debate among woodworkers. The strong odor emitted by a lot of popular sealants can seem quite intimidating to work with, let alone eat off of. In that case, you can always opt for non-toxic sealants or food-grade sealants to be safe.
Make sure that whatever sealant that you use, you should only use your wooden item to handle food once the sealant has completely cured and no longer smells like chemicals.
And, of course, just because you’re working with non-toxic sealants doesn’t mean you should ignore safety precautions when working with the sealants. Some sealants can have a strong chemical odor, so you should always work in a well-ventilated area and use gloves to protect yourself.
Drying Time & Curing Time
As we’ve mentioned, curing time isn’t the same as drying time. A sealant can dry in a few hours, but it will completely cure after a couple of days.
A sealant is “dry” when it is no longer sticky, but it is only “cured” when you no longer smell any odor from it, indicating that all the solvent has completely evaporated.
Most common store-bought sealers will indicate on the box what the drying time and the curing time are.
Knowing the drying time is helpful when you need to apply several coats because you will need to wait for the first coat to completely dry before applying another coat.
Curing time is a very important indicator when you need to make your wooden item food safe. Pay attention to the curing time, and only use your item to handle food after the sealant has completely cured.
Wooden items like utensils can be exposed to heat from time to time. As we’ve mentioned, most sealants will not react well under high heat, even after it’s completely cured.
Most product labels will tell you what is the temperature range that the sealant can handle without breaking down or losing structural integrity, so you should pay attention to this indicator when using a wood sealant.
Certain wood finishes will definitely not work well with heat. Beeswax, for example, is a food-safe wood finish that can be completely melted off if it is exposed to high heat.
Can The Finish Hold Up?
Choosing the finish depends a lot on what you’re sealing. For example, if you are sealing a countertop that needs to handle the wear and tear of regular use, then using a surface sealant is probably a good idea.
If you are sealing a bowl or something that will need to handle a lot of liquid, then offering more protection with a surface sealant or drying oil will also help protect it from moisture.
Cutting boards or butcher blocks usually need to be sealed with non-drying mineral oil, as it will need to have some give to work with the cutting motions. When working with a non-drying oil, the oil will need to be reapplied regularly to maintain the level of protection.
Best Food-Safe Wood Sealants
If you are looking for a good food-safe wood sealant, let’s take a look at some common drying oils, non-drying oils, and surface sealants that are food-safe below.
Important Note: While the following products are food safe once completely cured, we cannot guarantee their safety in the dishwasher or when exposed to high heat.
Shellac is a surface sealant that comes from the Lac bug. It provides good surface protection against moisture and leaves behind a glossy finish. Once completely cured, shellac is food-safe.
1. Rust-Oleum Zinsser 304H 1-Quart Bulls Eye Clear Shellac
The Rust-Oleum Bulls Eye sealer is a food-safe finish and sealer that can be used to protect your works from the natural deterioration caused by water, sunlight, temperature changes, and moisture.
Unlike other shellac products on the market, this one has been specially formulated to provide a recoat time of less than one hour, making it easy to apply several layers in a short time.
This formula is non-toxic, and after it is completely cured, the wood is protected from the elements and safe to use with food.
After drying, this shellac formula leaves behind a faint golden color that adds to the natural beauty of the wood, in addition to a lovely glossy finish that will add to your appetite.
Tung Oil is a common drying oil that is very popular as a wood finish. It penetrates into the wood and dries hard, adding a water-resistant property to your wood.
Contrary to popular belief, tung oil does not affect individuals with nut allergies, so you can safely use it to handle food when the oil is completely cured.
2. HOPE’S Pure Tung Oil, Waterproof Natural Wood Finish, and Sealer
HOPE’S Pure Tung Oil Food-Safe Wood Finish is a natural finish made from 100% pure organic tung oil. It penetrates deep into wood fibers, cures to a flexible non-oily solid film that seals out air and moisture to protect the wood from wear and tear.
Tung oil is extremely durable and water-resistant as a wood sealer. It helps inhibit bacterial growth and is also non-toxic when cured, making it safe for use with your salad bowls or kitchen counters, and other wooden items in your home that need to handle food.
Amateur woodworkers will appreciate how easy it is to work with this tung oil formula, as it is quite easy to apply on the wood without leaving any streaks or brush marks. The curing time is about 24 hours, and after that, your wooden bowl or countertop should be ready to handle food.
3. Furniture Clinic Tung Oil for Wood
Easy to apply, this Tung Oil creates a natural matte finish on your wood pieces. The sealer restores the natural color of the wood, protects it from dryness and deterioration, and maintains the aesthetic of the wood for a long time.
The oil is 100% natural and food-safe. Since this is a drying oil, it will be absorbed into the wood, dry hard, and be able to protect the wood from within.
Once completely cured, the wood will become resistant to food stains and moisture and safe to handle food directly.
4. WALRUS OIL – Furniture Finish
This Walrus Oil is a mix of three different drying oils: safflower oil, tung oil, and hemp seed oil. This formula is completely vegan with a light, natural, and quite pleasant scent, so it’s very safe to use to finish your wood at home.
A great feature of this drying oil is that it uses all FDA food-safe ingredients. When applied, it adds a hydrating touch to the wood and enhances the wood’s natural colors and grain patterns. Once cured, it is completely food-safe.
As this is a drying oil, it also offers all of the benefits that other drying oil offers. It is easily applied, penetrates the porous wood surface very nicely, and dries hard to protect the wood from any moisture or wear.
Food Grade Beeswax
Beeswax comes from the honeycomb, so you know that it is completely food-safe. It has a light protective ability and is fairly waterproof, but since it is wax, it is not great to use with hot food as it can be melted off.
Beeswax is good to use if you need to seal cutting boards and butcher blocks, as it is soft enough to make cutting comfortable. However, you will need to reapply occasionally to maintain the desired level of protection.
5. Wood Wax – Applicator included – Made With Coconut Oil And Beeswax
This wood wax is an all-natural food-safe, organic wax that is made entirely from 100% food-safe ingredients.
This combination of coconut oil, beeswax, and orange essential oil is hard at work on your wood. The only thing you feel when you apply is a smooth moisturizing glide.
As a non-drying oil, the coconut oil can penetrate into the porous wood surface to nurture and rehydrate the wood. Then, the beeswax seals the surface to protect the wood surface from stains and moisture.
This wax adds a light sheen to your wood surface while protecting it against everyday wear and tear. This product also comes with a convenient applicator, which makes buffing the wax into your wood really simple and easy.
6. Interstate WoodWorks Beeswax Paste Wood Finish
This Beeswax Paste is a lovely all-natural food-safe, 100% biodegradable wood finish.
This multi-purpose wax can be used to finish wood surfaces and even clean metal surfaces. It dries quickly to a soft velvety surface and offers great protection for things like cutting blocks or butcher boards.
This wood finish is easy to apply by buffing onto the wood surface.
It has good penetration properties so that it can sink deep into the wood grain structure, giving it exceptional adhesion to the wood substrates, which will not crack or peel when dry and can offer great protection for your wood surface.
Food-Grade Mineral Oil
Food-grade mineral oil is a versatile non-drying oil that can be used on butcher block counters and cutting boards.
Since it is a non-drying oil, it will need to be reapplied regularly, possibly on a monthly basis, to maintain the wood’s quality. Otherwise, the wood surface can easily crack or dry out.
7. WALRUS OIL – Cutting Board Oil and Wood Butcher Block Oil
With this Butcher block Oil, replenishing your cutting boards’ surface will never be so easy! This mineral oil is made of all-natural and food-safe ingredients, including coconut oil, mineral oil, beeswax, and vitamin E.
Simply apply a thin layer of oil to your board and allow it to soak in. After about 24 hours, it dries with an even, glossy finish without residue build-up.
The coconut oil content in this product helps maintain the wood’s lustrous color. The Mineral Oil gives the board a softer feel while protecting it for use, and the beeswax gives the wood long-lasting protection.
This is a lovely formula that really takes care of your cutting board, and application just cannot get easier.
This Food Grade Mineral Oil is your solution for keeping your cutting board looking new.
This all-natural multi-purpose white oil is suitable for use on all wood products, and it’s even able to restore old, dull woods.
This mineral oil is a non-drying oil that can penetrate deeply to protect them from the effects of water and inhibit wood cracking and drying.
It dries after 24 hours, leaving a nice shine on your wood surface that makes the wood look nourished and appetizing. It comes in a push-applicator cap bottle that makes it really easy to apply a little bit at a time with a rag.
9. Caron & Doucet – Conditioning Oil & Wood Finishing Wax Bundle
This is a bundle of conditioning oil and wood finishing wax that can help protect your cutting boards from the inside and out.
The conditioning oil is made from non-toxic, food-grade coconut oil, enhanced with natural essential oils. It has been designed to prevent cracking of cutting boards caused by excess water or rapid drying.
This conditioning oil will penetrate deep into the fibers of the wood to hydrate and condition your cutting board, while the wax can seal everything from within and protect the wood from moisture.
If you’re thinking, ‘wouldn’t the coconut oil go bad?’ then you can be assured that this conditioning oil was made using a solventless refinement process that prevents the oil from going rancid, which means it’s less maintenance; while you can enjoy all the benefits!
Similar to other non-drying oil, this conditioning oil can be easily smoothed over the wooden surface. After drying, the oil will leave behind a healthy sheen that makes your wood look natural and nourished.
10. Bayes High-Performance Food Grade Mineral Oil
This High-Performance Food-Grade Mineral Oil is a lovely oil blend designed to nourish and beautifully preserve all wooden cutting boards, utensils, and accessories while making them safe and easy to clean.
Made with food-grade mineral oil, this conditioner also enhances the natural beauty of the kitchen’s most important tools, making them last longer.
This all-natural formula is non-toxic and biodegradable and contains no added fragrance or coloring that could potentially contaminate your foods.
Although it takes a few coats to provide maximum protection for your wooden cutlery and boards, this mineral oil is highly effective at protecting your wood from drying out, cracking, warping, becoming hard to clean, and rotting.
Raw Linseed Oil
Linseed oil is a drying oil made from flax seeds. After it’s cured, it can offer protection from sunlight and moisture. However, linseed oil is less popular as a sealant because it takes quite a long time to cure completely, up to a month’s time.
11. LinSheen Raw Linseed Oil
This Raw Linseed oil is a nourishing drying oil that penetrates deep into the wood’s grain and offers protection from within to help ensure its longevity.
When applied, it absorbs into the wood, enhancing the natural color and texture of the grain while leaving a beautiful shine.
It is a solvent-free non-toxic formula that can be used on all types of wood, but especially things that need a little extra protection like your wooden kitchen table or countertops. Once cured, it is also completely food-safe.