A Complete Guide to Food Grade Wood Sealers

Wooden kitchen items like cutting boards, salad bowls, and utensils are staples in many homes. However, choosing the right finish is crucial to ensure these items are safe for food contact. Using a food-grade wood sealer provides protection against moisture, stains, and wear while keeping wood beautiful and touchable. With several options available, it’s important to understand the differences when selecting a sealer.

Shellac, a natural finish from lac bugs, leaves a glossy coating and seals wood from moisture. Tung oil deeply penetrates wood, ideal for cutting boards. Beeswax and carnauba wax, both derived from plants, make smooth, protective finishes. Mineral oil is popular for butcher blocks, safe for consumption while hydrating wood. Paraffin wax also seals wood but requires reapplication. Most modern sealers no longer contain hazardous chemicals like lead.

Applying a food-grade wood sealer has many benefits. Protection against damage, long-lasting finishes, and easy application are all important. But safety is paramount. Ensuring wooden kitchen items and surfaces are truly food-safe gives peace of mind. With options like shellac, plant waxes, and oils, it’s possible to safely seal and beautify wood for food contact. Understanding sealer differences allows selection of the right finish for any kitchen project.

Why Use a Food Grade Sealer?

Using wooden items in the kitchen both adds natural style and provides functionality. Wood is an ideal surface for food preparation. But left unprotected, wood can easily stain, warp, crack, or foster bacteria growth. Applying a proper food-safe finish preserves the beauty of wood while protecting it.

Food-grade sealers block moisture from seeping in and causing warping. They guard against stains from juices, oils, and sauces. A quality finish protects from scratches, cuts, and dings from regular kitchen use. And a food-safe treatment prevents germs, mold, and bacteria from taking hold in knife scars and crevices.

While some natural oils like mineral oil are safe for contact with food, they soak in and don’t offer long-term protection on their own. A surface coating is best for items like cutting boards, bowls, and utensils. For surfaces like butcher blocks, a frequent application of nourishing oil is recommended. But for any wooden kitchen item, using the right food-grade sealer is best.

Sealing and protecting wood before use isn’t just about looks. It prevents contamination and damage to keep wood pristine while ensuring it is safe for food.

Common Types of Food Grade Wood Sealers

When it comes to food-grade sealers for kitchen wood, there are several excellent options to consider:


Shellac is an all-natural finish derived from lac bugs. It leaves a glossy coating with a classic, vintage look. Shellac provides a moisture-resistant seal to prevent warping. It also protects against surface stains while showcasing the wood’s natural pattern and color.

Shellac is easy to apply but dries quickly. It’s a great choice for sealing cutting boards, wooden spoons, salad bowls, and other kitchen items. While shellac blocks moisture and stains, it isn’t fully waterproof and requires occasional renewal.

Tung Oil

Tung oil is a penetrating oil finish perfect for porous kitchen woods like maple, walnut, and cherry. It soaks deep into the wood grain to provide protection from inside. Tung oil is naturally moisture resistant while letting wood breathe. It helps repel stains, water marks, and soil while enhancing the natural wood texture.

For use on cutting boards, butcher blocks, and bowls, tung oil is an ideal choice. Make sure to use pure, food-safe tung oil labeled for kitchen use. Multiple thin layers are needed to build desired protection. Tung oil takes longer to dry but is very durable.


Natural beeswax makes for an excellent food-safe finish. It penetrates wood while providing a smooth, non-sticky surface. Beeswax protects against moisture, stains, and odors. It helps seal and preserve wooden cutting boards, salad bowls, and utensils.

Pure beeswax is a dye-free, solvent-free finish made from honeycomb. It’s simple to apply by rubbing or spraying liquefied wax into wood. Beeswax brings out a subtle sheen and feels great under your hands. As a natural product, beeswax is completely food safe with just a hint of honey aroma.

Carnauba Wax

For a harder, more durable food-safe coating, turn to carnauba wax. Derived from the leaves of Brazilian palm trees, carnauba wax creates a glossy, water-beading seal. It’s often combined with beeswax or oils for the ideal finish.

Carnauba wax protects cutting boards and other wood food surfaces from moisture, spills, and stains. It produces a smooth, easy-clean finish. As a plant-based product, carnauba wax is completely food-safe and environmentally friendly. Use it to add a touch of luxury feel to everyday wooden kitchen items.

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a popular choice for treating butcher blocks, cutting boards, and other wood food prep surfaces. Completely VOC-free and food safe, mineral oil penetrates deep into wood pores for moisture protection. It won’t go rancid or deteriorate over time.

Mineral oil is affordable, simple to apply, and odorless and tasteless. It hydrates wood to prevent drying and cracking. As a non-toxic material, mineral oil is safe for direct food contact. However, it soaks in and doesn’t offer a protective barrier on its own. Frequent reapplication is needed for long-term performance.

Paraffin Wax

Paraffin wax is derived from petroleum to create a flexible, plastic-like seal. It is used to seal and coat wood surfaces. Paraffin wax fills pores and seals out moisture and stains. It leaves a smooth, easy-clean finish ideal for rolling doughs.

However, since paraffin wax is not a hard, durable sealant, it requires very frequent reapplication on kitchen surfaces. And it is easily compromised by water and washing. This limits its use on items like cutting boards. But if maintaining a consistent wax seal, it can be an affordable food-safe option.

Walnut Oil

For a all-natural wood treatment, walnut oil makes a great sealing finish. It penetrates deeply to nourish wood while providing a smooth surface that resists moisture, stains, and wear. Pure walnut oil is completely food-safe and environmentally friendly.

Walnut oil brings out the natural color and pattern of wood grains. It dries slowly to ensure deep penetration into the wood pores. Use walnut oil to treat and seal cutting boards, spoons, bowls, rolling pins, and butcher block surfaces. Just be sure to allow several weeks to fully cure before use.

Comparison Table of the Common Types of Food Grade Wood Sealers

Sealer Origins Properties Best Uses Pros Cons
Shellac Lac bugs Natural glossy coating, moisture-resistant Cutting boards, utensils, salad bowls Easy to apply, all-natural Not fully waterproof, needs occasional renewal
Tung Oil Tung tree nuts Penetrating, moisture and stain resistant Cutting boards, butcher blocks Enhances natural wood, durable Longer drying time
Beeswax Honeycomb Natural, penetrates wood, moisture/stain resistant Cutting boards, utensils Non-toxic, easy to apply Needs occasional reapplication
Carnauba Wax Palm leaves Glossy, water-beading seal Cutting boards, prep surfaces Hard, durable finish Can feel plastic-like
Mineral Oil Petroleum distillate Penetrates, hydrates wood Butcher blocks, cutting boards Food-safe, easy to apply Doesn’t create a protective barrier, needs frequent reapplication
Paraffin Wax Petroleum byproduct Flexible seal, moisture/stain resistant Dough boards, prep surfaces Smooth finish Not durable, easily compromised by water

Key Benefits of Using a Food Grade Sealer

There are many great reasons to use a food-grade sealer on your wooden kitchenware and prep surfaces:

  • Long-lasting protection – Quality wood sealers provide durable protection from moisture, spills, stains, and wear that can damage wood over time. They help wood maintain its integrity and beauty.
  • Enhances natural look – Sealers that penetrate wood, like tung oil or walnut oil, accentuate the depth and dimensions of the natural grain. They showcase wood’s innate beauty.
  • Easy, effective application – Many food-safe finishes like mineral oil or beeswax are simple to apply by hand. Even surface sealers only take a couple coats. Proper application means lasting protection.
  • Revives old wood – Rejuvenate dried, cracked cutting boards or warped utensils by sanding and applying a reconditioning food-grade finish. Oil soaks in to restore suppleness and protection.
  • Safe for food contact – The most important factor is using truly food-safe finishes. This prevents any worries over chemicals leaching into foods. Only use FDA-approved sealers for kitchen items.
  • Saves money – Sealing wood preserves quality for years of use and enjoyment. It prevents the need to replace worn kitchen items frequently.

Using the proper wood sealer saves time on maintenance while making wood both safe and beautiful.

Choosing Between Oil and Surface Sealers

One decision to make when picking a food-grade wood finish is whether to use an oil or a surface coating. Each has distinct advantages:

Oil finish

  • Penetrates deeply to protect inside wood
  • Displays natural grain, easy to renew
  • Enhances rather than coats wood
  • Longer drying time required
  • Less water and stain resistance

Surface coating

  • Forms protective film atop wood
  • Blocks moisture, stains, wear and tear
  • Quick drying times
  • Can feel plastic-like to touch
  • Can appear artificial if applied too thick

Tung oil and beeswax are popular penetrating food-safe finishes. They soak in to become part of the wood. Shellac, carnauba wax, and varnish are common surface sealers that adhere to the top. The right option depends on the use of the kitchen item and your personal preference.

According to wood finishing experts, oil and wax finishes that soak in provide the most natural, longest-lasting protection for items like cutting boards. But for pieces that need to withstand frequent moisture and cleaning like bowls or utensils, a hard surface finish is best.

Applying a Food Grade Wood Sealer

Once you’ve selected the right food-safe sealer for your project, proper application is key. Follow these best practices:

  1. Prepare wood by sanding lightly to open pores and remove any existing finishes
  2. Wipe surface with a clean, damp cloth to remove dust
  3. Work in a clean, dust-free area with adequate ventilation
  4. Carefully read product label and follow instructions precisely
  5. Apply thin, even coats with a clean brush, cloth or sprayer
  6. Allow adequate drying time between coats
  7. Lightly sand and wipe wood after each coat for a smooth final finish
  8. Give final coating several weeks to cure fully before use
  9. Clean brushes and equipment with recommended solvents
  10. Properly dispose of oily rags by laying flat to dry to prevent combustion before throwing away
  11. Reapply protective coats as needed to maintain sealing and conditioning

When applying food-grade finishes, patience leads to the best results. Thin applications, proper drying times, and full curing of the final film or penetrating oil allow for maximum performance. Rushing the process can ruin the finish and protection.

Maintaining and Renewing a Food Safe Finish

No wood sealer lasts forever, especially with repeated kitchen use. While quality food-safe finishes endure better than others, periodic renewal is required. Mineral oil finishes need reapplied every few weeks. Penetrating oils and waxes may need a new coat each year. Hard surface finishes can last years before needing renewal.

Here are tips for maintaining wood sealed with a food-grade finish:

  • Inspect boards, utensils, and surfaces regularly for signs of drying, cracks, water marks, or dullness
  • Wash wood gently by hand and avoid harsh detergents
  • Towel dry wood items thoroughly after cleaning
  • Recondition by applying a fresh coat of mineral oil monthly or as needed
  • Renew penetrating oil or wax coats one to two times per year depending on use
  • Lightly sand and reapply surface finishes every few years per manufacturer directions
  • Replace severely damaged or worn boards or utensils

Shop Top Brands for Quality Food Grade Sealers

From artisanal cutting boards to exquisite salad bowls, specialized wood shops offer heirloom-quality kitchen wood items. Many also produce their own food-safe finishes perfect for sealing their creations. Look to these brands for top-quality, tried and true food grade sealers:

  • John Boos – Produces FDA-approved Mystery Oil and Cream with beeswax ideal for their butcher blocks and cutting boards
  • Vermont Cutlery Company – Offers food-safe Bee’s Wax Wood Polish for all cutlery wood handles and boards
  • J.K. Adams – Makes their own all-natural, VOC-free Wood Butter sealer for boards, dowels, and utensils
  • Thos. Moser – Creates non-toxic beeswax with citrus oils to finish their handcrafted wood furniture and kitchen items
  • Salad Hands – Uses FDA-compliant mineral oil and beeswax sealers to finish their striking wood salad bowls

Seeking out food-safe wood finishes from reputable wood crafting companies ensures you’re getting a high-quality, non-toxic product designed specially for kitchen use.

The Best Practices for Keeping Wood Safe and Beautiful

Maintaining the health, safety, and beauty of wood kitchen products comes down to using the proper food-grade sealer and applying it correctly. Follow these best practices:

  • Choose an FDA-approved, non-toxic sealer specifically made for food contact – don’t take chances with wood finishes not rated food safe
  • Select a penetrating oil and/or surface sealer that fits your kitchen wood product and it’s usage
  • Carefully prepare, clean, and sand wood before application per product directions
  • Apply thin, even coats allowing proper drying and curing time between each
  • Maintain the protective seal by reapplying oil or renewing surface coatings periodically

FAQs on Food Grade Wood Sealers

What are the benefits of using a food grade wood sealer?

The benefits include long-lasting protection from moisture, stains and wear; enhancing the natural beauty of the wood; easy application; restoring old wood; and being safe for food contact.

How often do I need to reapply a food safe finish?

It depends on the type of finish and frequency of use. Mineral oil finishes need reapplying every few weeks. Penetrating oils and waxes may need renewal every 6-12 months. Surface sealers can last years before needing reapplication.

Do all wood finishes need to be food grade for kitchen use?

For items in direct food contact like cutting boards and utensils, a food grade finish is strongly recommended. For Secondary surfaces further from food, general wood sealers may be acceptable. Always check the manufacturer’s safety recommendations.

What’s the difference between a penetrating and surface wood finish?

Penetrating finishes like oil soak into the wood grain to protect from within. Surface finishes adhere to the outermost layer of wood to create a protective coating. Each has pros and cons for different kitchen uses.

How long does it take for a food safe finish to fully cure?

Curing times vary based on the product. Oils can take weeks to months to fully cure within the wood. Surface sealers typically cure within hours or days but may take longer to become fully food safe. Always follow the manufacturer’s cure time recommendations.

Can I use cooking oils like olive or coconut oil to finish wood?

Cooking oils should not be used as wood finishes. They can turn rancid over time. Only use wood finishing oils designed for long-term use on kitchen items.


In conclusion, the significance of a food-grade wood sealer in culinary spaces cannot be overstated. It’s the unsung hero that not only enhances the aesthetics of wooden surfaces but also ensures their safety when they come into contact with food. By exploring the various aspects of food-grade wood sealers detailed in this guide, you’ve gained a comprehensive understanding of their role in preserving the beauty and hygiene of your kitchen. These sealers, formulated to meet stringent safety standards, not only protect your wooden surfaces but also contribute to a healthier, more enjoyable cooking environment. Whether you’re sealing cutting boards, countertops, or other kitchen essentials, choosing a food-grade wood sealer is the surefire way to ensure your culinary creations are prepared on surfaces that are not only functional but also safe for you and your loved ones.

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