Is Tung Oil Food Safe?

Finishing wooden bowls and plates with Tung oil.

There will surely come a time in your woodworking career when you need to use food-safe finishes, especially in projects used for handling food and drinks. As such, it will be best to know the finishes that are food safe for these projects. One option that usually gets mentioned when food safety is discussed is tung oil. But does tung oil not really contain harmful chemicals and toxic additives?

Tung oil comes in different varieties. Some are pure, while others are tinged with gloss-enhancing chemicals and drying agents. The drying agents allow the tung oil to dry fast, while gloss-enhancing chemicals improve the glossiness of the finish. So, if you want to use food-safe tung oil, it will be best to go for its food-safe versions, devoid of gloss-enhancing chemicals and drying agents. 

Different Tung Oil Finishes and Their Food-Safety

Tung oil penetrates deeply into the wood. Thus, it doesn’t simply sit on the wood surface like paint. As a natural oil, it is food-safe in its purest form. However, if you are considering the use of tung oil, it will be best to know the following different types of tung oil finishes available in the market:

1) Pure Tung Oil

Pure tung oil doesn’t have solvents, meaning its use doesn’t expose you to VOCs or volatile organic compounds. Thus, pure tung oil is not toxic or hazardous and is food safe. If you utilize it on projects that would be used for handling food, you can expect it to be food-grade. 

2) Tung Oil Varnish

You can also find wiping tung oil varnish derived from a combination of minerals, linseed or tung oil, and soybean. This hodge-podge of ingredients gets cooked with resins. The resulting concoction exhibits faster drying time and enhanced resistance to damage. 

Besides, it is easier to apply than pure tung oil. However, this wiping varnish comes with thinner that allows for easy wiping using a clean cloth. 

The wiping varnish might be tagged as food safe tung oil finish. Yet, you need to check its ingredients to ensure food safety. If it has petroleum distillates, it is not pure tung oil but a wiping varnish. However, wiping varnish is food safe once wholly cured and hardened. 

3) Varnish or Oil Blends

The oil/varnish blend might be an appealing option for many woodworkers because of its ease of application and speed of drying. Yet, if your project requires a food-safe finish, there may be better options than this oil/varnish blend because it may contain harmful chemicals and ingredients. 

However, based on the circular of the US Food & Drug Administration, this finish is food safe if it has already completely cured. 

The ingredients of this varnish blend consist of solvents and a tung oil mix. This formulation allows for easy application and quick drying time. Oil/varnish blend gets usually labeled as containing petroleum distillates. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Aside from knowing the different types of Tung oil finishes in the market today, it will be best likewise to know the following FAQs about the use of tung oil, for they might also be the questions playing on in your mind:

Which Type of Tung Oil Finish is Food Safe?

Tung oil tree is considered poisonous. Yet, the oil derived from that tree is non-toxic. Besides, pure tung oil is approved by FDA. Hence, you can use it for projects that come in contact with food, like chopping boards, furniture, and kitchen tables. 

However, if the tung oil has not completely hardened, it may cause allergies in some rare cases. So, before you let the food come in contact with any wood finished with tung oil, you should ensure that the tung oil has completely dried and hardened. 

Solvents get often used for thinning tung oil, and tung oil thinned with solvents might be food safe if it has entirely cured. Nevertheless, it will help to be careful when using tung oil thinned with solvents. Additionally, it may exude an odor during the drying and curing period. 

What Are the Factors You Should Consider When Choosing Food-safe Tung Oil?

When choosing a type of tung oil for your project, be mindful of the following essential factors. First, you should check the FDA assessment of the tung oil product. Moreover, you should determine the specific curing time of the tung oil product. Lastly, know the health risk concomitant with using the tung oil product. 

You can opt for pure tung oil to ensure you use a food-safe tung oil product. Nevertheless, using pure tung oil comes with many disadvantages. On the one hand, it is hard to apply. It also takes time to dry. Hence, it is not a popular option among woodworkers. 

You can also use oil/varnish blends as well as wiping varnish. Yet, these products should dry and cure completely before you let the food come in contact with it. 

Another thing is you can use other finishes tagged as food safe if you don’t want to use tung oil, and you have some options aside from tung oil. 


Tung oil provides a transparent and wet-look finish that is glossy and attractive. It also provides a protective layer to the wood surface and enhances the beauty and color of the wood. Besides, it is a natural oil finishing derived from the seeds of the tung tree. It hardens once exposed to air. Plus, it is a top-quality finish for any woodworking undertaking. 

Pure tung oil is indeed food safe. However, its use comes with drawbacks. Nevertheless, you can use it if you really want a food-safe finish for your projects and you got ample time to spare. This is because pure tung oil tends to dry slowly and is not easy to apply. But if you want to go the extra mile and time is not an issue for you, you can surely go for pure tung oil as a food-safe alternative. 

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