Wood is being used more and more for dishes and kitchen utensils. The question quickly arises, how can I treat cutting and kitchen boards or salad bowls in a food-safe manner. Or maybe you want to restore your old cutting board too.
In the following article, we would like to introduce a few treatment options in more detail that are absolutely non-toxic for humans and animals.
Why Does Wood Have to Be Sealed?
Sealing wood has several advantages. The most important is that the wood is more resistant to water and moisture. Because if water penetrates the wood and cannot dry off, it can even go moldy in the worst case. Much more often, however, it happens that cutting boards and bowls warp when they are repeatedly exposed to moisture.
In addition, oiled or treated wood simply has a nicer look and feel than untreated wood. It is also less sensitive to stains and dirt.
But there is one exception that we know. These are wooden products made from maple. Because maple has the ability to clean itself. This is why maple is a wood that is good for food. In the case of this wood, it is also not absolutely necessary to treat it with oil or other agents – but it doesn’t do any harm either.
Is “Approved for Children’s Toys” Also Suitable for Food?
Many wood oils and other care products are approved for children’s toys by DIN EN 71-3. These wood care products have been tested for saliva and sweat resistance by DIN 53160. But does that also mean that these are then approved for food?
According to DIN EN 71-3, wood oils can be used for worktops and kitchen cabinets.
The DIN EN 71-3 states that a child can safely put the treated wood in their mouth without harming their health. In addition, the oil will not separate from the wood. So it should be used for cutting boards, wooden spoons and the like without any problems. Yes and no. For worktops, kitchen cabinets, or knife handles, we can safely recommend care products by DIN EN 71-3. In our opinion, these oils are only suitable to a limited extent for woods that come into direct contact with food. Even if the popular opinion is that wood oils and waxes are food-safe if approved for children’s toys, let’s take a closer look at this topic.
Why Are Wood Oils According to DIN en 71-3 only Partially Suitable for Kitchen Boards and The Like?
As we have just found out, the standard only states that the oils have only been tested to ensure that certain limit values for “poisons” are adhered to. But in the kitchen, the woods are exposed to completely different loads.
Our cutting boards cut with sharp knives? What happens if (small) parts of the care product are scraped off and then get into the food? Or does the oil hold even if the wooden spoon is used to stir soup at 100 ° C? What about the salad bowl? Is the wood oil also protected against vinegar or other acids? And last but not least, what does it look like when the wood ends up in warm soapy water?
As you can see, resistant to saliva and sweat does not mean that the wood can withstand the demands of a kitchen.
Wood Oils and Waxes Suitable for Toys Contain Additives
You are probably wondering what can happen when such small scraps end up in your food. First of all, probably not much. But as with almost anything, it is the dose that can cause harm. Our opinion is simple, the more natural, the better.
Ready-mixed oils usually consist of vegetable oils and waxes and so-called siccatives (drying agents) and/or solvents. This can be turpentine oil, citrus oils, but also cobalt or manganese compounds. It is precisely the solvents that evaporate without leaving any residue during the drying process. Nevertheless, the oils simply contain natural and synthetic substances that come into contact with the wood.
This is good for worktops, tables, or cupboards because these substances make the oil faster to form a protective layer, making it more resilient. But we don’t want to have these substances on a snack board or wooden spoon. Especially since the manufacturers do not provide any information on how the oils behave in the face of the stresses that arise in the kitchen.
How Can Wood Then Be Treated Food-Safe in The Kitchen?
Oils and waxes were used to treat wood centuries before the chemical industry existed. And these products and techniques still work just as well today as they did back then.
Treat Wood in A Food-Safe Manner with Cooking Oils
The most obvious thing is to let the wood with food that we also find on our plate. That is why we like to use cooking oil to treat cutting and kitchen boards.
But not all edible oils are suitable for this. Many recommend, for example, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, or olive oil. But these oils are not hardening and, in the worst-case scenario, can become rancid or moldy.
Edible oils that are well suited for treating wood are nut oils (peanut, hazel, walnut, or tung oil), pure linseed oil, safflower oil, or poppy seed oil.
We prefer to use peanut oil ourselves. The reason for this is as follows. It is inexpensive, hardens quickly, and is odorless and color-neutral.
Nevertheless, it takes a little longer with the oils mentioned before; they are completely hardened. As a rule, it takes 2 to 10 weeks for the oils to harden completely.
To speed up the hardening process, you can add isopropanol (pure alcohol) or citrus oils (orange or lemon oil). These are (natural) solvents that evaporate completely. However, we also completely dispense with these solvents.
Natural Waxes as Food-Safe Wood Protection
Some colleagues also use natural waxes to impregnate kitchen utensils in a food-safe way.
Primarily, these include beeswax and carnauba wax. These waxes are completely non-toxic but also do not form a 100% abrasion-resistant protective surface. But for salad bowls, the wax layer can serve as an additional moisture barrier.
You can also make a hard wax oil yourself from cooking oils and beeswax. We have already explained in detail how this works on our blog.
Insider Tip: Leave-in Bowls with Wood Butter
The somewhat unknown product, wood butter, has been on the market for some time. The butter consists of natural substances and, according to the manufacturer, is completely free of solvents and preservatives. In theory, the product can even be used as a hand or lip balm.
The product was mixed according to an old “Swiss Recipe” and gives the wood a breathable, silk-matt surface.
The wood butter can also be kept for several years and is still relatively inexpensive at around $ 44.
A similar product based on coconut oil and beeswax is Odie’s board fat.
Chestnut’s Food Safe Is a Chemical Sealant that Is Food Safe
In turner circles, you often hear about Food Safe from the manufacturer Chestnut when it comes to food and wood. The product has also been tested and approved by some authorities. It does not fire the wood and forms a water-repellent surface.
But it is warned that it is essential that the oil hardens for 24 hours before it comes into contact with food. Furthermore, there is a safety note that you should definitely contact a doctor if swallowed.
Although this only indicates that the oil is poisonous in its liquid state, it is harmless when cured. But this is out of the question for us because we prefer to use purely ecological materials. For the sake of detail, we want to mention this product, which is very popular with some colleagues, anyway.
Further Products for Sealing Wood in A Food-Safe Manner
There are now many other products on the market that you can use to oil your cutting boards and wooden bowls.
Conclusion: Wood Can Be Treated Food-Safe with Ecological Waxes and Oils
If a wood oil or hard wax oil is approved for toys, that does not mean it is suitable for food.
We believe kitchen boards, wooden spoons, and other wooden utensils in the kitchen should be treated ecologically. That is why we mainly use peanut oil and beeswax for wood treatment.
But the market also has other products, such as Food Safe or wood butter, that are directly approved for food.