I want to address a question that I get often about finishes. The question is "What finishes are food safe?".
There are two issues here that need to be considered. The first issue is if the finish is actually safe. The second issue is will the finish you use prevent your customers from buying the products you build.
There are many discussions about food safe finishes on the internet. Until recently most of them were full of bad information. Word is slowly getting out with the correct information.
All modern day finishes are considered food safe. There is one point that you have to understand to make this true. After you finish a project it has to dry and cure. The key word here is "cure". They are very different descriptions. Almost always the amount of time it takes a finish to cure is much longer than for it to dry.
Once a finish has a dry film on the surface it is still drying below that top layer. At that point it can be handled but it is not cured. The finished is cured once it is dry all the way. That is when it is food safe.
You should consult the instructions on the finish you are using to see the recommended drying and curing times. Different conditions such as temperature and humidity can delay the time for a finish to cure. A good recommendation is to add a couple days to the given cure time.
Wood magazine examined the MSDS(Material data safety sheet) for one commercially available salad bowl finish. They noted that it contained several chemicals that were known to cause health issues at high enough levels of exposure. Because the levels of these chemicals are under the bad exposure level they are "food safe". The take away from this research is that some commercially available "food safe" finishes are as safe but no safer than any finish that has cured.
That's the good new but now for the bad. If you are selling cutting boards you have to consider what your customers will expect. Some of them will ask how the board was finished. You don't want to try to convince them that all finishes are food safe. They probably have heard just the opposite. I would rather finish the project with a product that is known to the general public as "food safe".
Mineral oil, pure tung oil, bees wax are just a few products that your customers may have heard were food safe. I would even go so far as to have signage in my booth promoting the food safe finish I used. Make the customer feel comfortable with their purchase. The point of sell is not the time to try to educate unless you want to take your merchandise home.
I know these facts are controversial with some woodworkers. I'm not trying to convince you how to finish your projects that come into contact with food. I am just relaying the information I have read from the most reliable sources I know. Do your own homework and come to your own conclusions.
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