Food Safe Wood Finish (Part 2 of 2)

The second ‘school’ of thought is that no finish is really food safe.  This seems kind of extreme.  I do realize, however, that often in life some study comes out 20 years after you used a product that supposedly proves that in 15% of lab rats it causes cancer.  I suppose that to a complete purest, having any finish on a natural wood piece could be toxic.  The only problem is that it isn’t going to last long without any protection.  Since manufacturer’s specifically produce and market finishes as food safe and there are several that you can use (like bees wax and oils such as Tung, Walnut and even olive) that are natural, it seems unrealistic that there is nothing you can use that is food safe.

I feel that there is a happy medium in there somewhere.  If you finish something with a ‘non-food safe’ polyurethane, I would limit the direct contact to food.  Some M & M’s or chips for a dinner party might be ok for one night, but, I probably would avoid serving salad every night or other partially wet foods.  If you finish your piece in a food safe finish, that can probably be used on a more consistent basis with food.  In all cases, you do want to make sure that your piece has had ample time to dry (seeing as the drying makes it food safe).  One product that I use, suggests drying for 30-90 days before exposure to food.  I would add to that (at least in the case of polyurethane finish) that you allow it to dry that long and then clean it with a soapy sponge.  I have found that polyurethane holds up well to water and soap, so, it shouldn’t be a problem as far as ruining the piece.  The point of cleaning it is just to remove any surface residual and smell that might have accumulated before first use.

As far as natural oils are concerned, the simple truth is that if you put them in your body on a regular basis (or could) I don’t see any problem with putting them on your precious wood food items.  The one word of caution I would have is if you are using any kind of nut oil (walnut, tung, etc).  Anyone with a allergy to nuts, may have a reaction to the oils in your piece.  I have not extensively researched nut allergies.  I certainly would not want to take a chance serving my friends out of a walnut oil bowl in case one of them was allergic.

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