A summary of non-toxic finishing products ideal for cutting boards, salad bowls, and other food-centric woodwork
by Jonathan Binzen
After scores of conversations with chemists, regulatory agencies, finish manufacturers, finishing experts, and woodworkers, I found that there are a few finishes that everyone agrees are food safe. However, these finishes tend to be the least protective, and the great majority are in a kind of limbo, with many experts saying most are fine for use with food but with others saying they shold be avoided because there are some lingering questions about their safety. In the welter of contrary opinions about which finishes are food safe and which are not, a few naturally derived, unblended, no hidden igredients, certainly nontoxic finishes stand out.
Pure tung oil. Extracted from the out of the China wood tree. Used as a base in many blended finishes. Available from catalogs and hardware stores. Difficult to apply, requires many coats, good water resistance.
Raw linseed oil. Pressed from flax seeds, not to be confused with boiled linseed, which contains metallic driers. Listed as a food additive by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Very long curing time, good looks, low water-resistance and frequent reapplication.
Mineral oil. Although derived from petroleum, it is colorless, ordorless, tasteless and entirely inert. Sold as a laxative in drug stores and as a wood finish in hardware and kitchen-supply stores. Simple to apply low water-resistance, requent reapplication.