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Is Your Finish Food Safe

Let us put your mind at ease

Wood finishes contain all kinds of chemicals that you would not want to put in your mouth, so you can't help but wonder: Is it safe to coat a salad bowl or a serving platter with the stuff? The answer: Any commercial finish is safe, once it has dried and cured. Here's a look at the most common concerns.

Q. Which finishes are safe for children's toys or projects that come in contact with food? A. You can use any finish that's appropriate to your project, including varnish, lacquer, shellac, and boiled linseed oil. Before putting it to use, be sure to allow for complete curing, a chemical process that takes significantly longer than drying. Some kinds of finish cure by evaporation of their solvent, and some cure by reacting with oxygen. Either way, the process continues after a film has formed on top.

Q. How long does it take various finishes to cure? A. The container label should give you general guidelines about how long to wait. For example, one salad bowl finish recommends three days of curing after the final finishing step; one brushing lacquer calls for seven days of curing before normal use. But remember that temperature, humidity, and application thickness can stretch those rules. Just to be safe, add a couple of days to any recommendation before putting the finished item to use.

finish food
Enlarge Image
To melt wax, fill
the lower part of
a double boiler with
water, put paraffin
in the upper unit,
and set the heat
on low.

Q. How about so-called salad bowl finishes? Are they any safer for use with food? A. We looked at the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for one type of salad bowl finish and found toluene--a probable cancer hazard--along with naphtha, ethyl benzene, and cobalt, all of which can damage your health with sufficient exposure. So, these products are as safe as, but no safer than, any other cured finish.

Q. Are there other substances that will protect cutting boards and butcher blocks? A. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Products Laboratory suggests melted paraffin wax. Apply as shown above. After it soaks into the wood and dries, scrape off any surface excess with a putty knife.

Photographs: Marty Baldwin; Hetherington Photography


Comments (18)
mike_janes wrote:

I have started to build childrens toys from 1 to 4 years old. i was wondering what is the best top coat to use for such toys? was worried about a child putting it in their mouth and sucking or bitting it and dont want to harm a child. any help is appreciated.

12/19/2015 02:08:49 PM Report Abuse
knukelhed wrote:

I have been making cutting boards for almost 10 years and come up with my own formula for sealing the wood. I always start with soaking in mineral oil and then applying a custom-made cutting board conditioner. I sell it at the online store section of my blog, which you can find at

9/19/2013 11:50:26 AM Report Abuse
Gary E. Cochran wrote:

Try Vaselene. It is a very good finish. I've used it on gun stocks with great results. Apply and rub in just as you would linseed oil.

1/28/2011 06:38:20 PM Report Abuse
anonymous wrote:

I've used olive oil for several years with excellent results, plus I have no doubts of it's safety.

1/23/2011 10:41:10 PM Report Abuse
larry braem wrote:


1/21/2011 12:51:54 PM Report Abuse
crisco218 wrote:

I'm a chef by trade, Made a butch block table for home kitchen,and sealing it with mineral oil every so often, works great keeps moisture out and its 123.

1/20/2011 09:42:30 PM Report Abuse
aljoswa1 wrote:

Swannee-- I have used pure tung oil and had no regrets. (Canada)

1/20/2011 08:04:12 PM Report Abuse
chabias wrote:

I used to use mineral oil when I first got into making utensils. Then I found Beeswax Butcher Block Conditioner at This stuff is the best!

1/20/2011 10:38:33 AM Report Abuse
Marlen_at_WOOD wrote:

My favorite cutting board project plan: I make several each year for wedding and holiday gifts. Marlen @ WOOD

1/12/2011 03:31:07 PM Report Abuse
Marlen_at_WOOD wrote:

I've used several butcher block finishes over the years, but I still prefer Behlen's Salad Bowl Finish. About every year or so, I'll sand down our cutting board (it gets a lot of use in our kitchen) and apply a few more coats of finish. Using this method cutting boards last for decades. The trick is to keep the wood completely sealed so moisture never gets to the wood or glue joints. Marlen @ WOOD

1/12/2011 03:30:31 PM Report Abuse

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