It can take Tung oil up to four weeks to fully cure and harden into a solid resin. Which is about how long you should wait, before using any wooden utensil coated in this oil finish.
That is because, while Tung oil is still drying, it is toxic. However, once a Tung oil has finished drying and curing, it is food safe.
Yet, knowing all of this, can you really safely use Tung oil to seal a cutting board? Yes, you can… BUT you probably shouldn’t.
And in this post, you will learn why that slow-curing Tung oil finish isn’t the most practical way to maintain a cutting board. You will also discover why many so-called Tung oil finishes are anything but the real thing.
And we reveal what kind of oil you should really be using to safely seal and protect your homemade cutting board.
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Is Tung Oil Safe For Food Prep Surfaces?
Well, first off, you probably already know that Tung oil finishes are classed as a drying oil. What this means is that this oil finish will dry (of course). But, more than that, it will go on to cure and harden.
However, Tung oil in its 100% pure and natural form is, in fact, a non-drying oil. Which means that in its original form, Tung oil doesn’t dry.
That is because Tung oil is made from the seeds of the Tung tree. And those Tung seeds are poisonous to humans. So, Tung oil has to be put through a high-heat polymerization treatment in order to turn it into a drying oil finish.
But, once you have a pure polymerized Tung oil, you have something that will dry and cure into a food safe resin.
Why Tung Oil Drying And Curing Is So Important For Food Safety
Now, the drying process is basically evaporation in work, with the oil turning from a liquid into a soft ‘dry-to-the-touch’ film. Tung oil will complete drying in 1-2 days, but, this oil will take much longer than that to cure.
You see, the curing process is a chemical reaction that Tung oil also undergoes (in addition to evaporation). This chemical reaction turns Tung oil from a soft film into a hard resin.
Tung oil takes up to 30 days to cure completely. And can take even longer in high humidity weather or cold temperatures.
Still, it is only in its post-cured form that Tung oil is safe enough to eat off. Before then, however, it is still poisonous.
Yet, as long as Tung oil has cured, it is safe for a food prep surface.
But, when it comes to food prep, water spills and liquids are common place. Either from food prep itself, or from washing and sanitizing that surface after prepping.
And all of that water is a problem for Tung oil, because Tung oil is not waterproof. It isn’t even very water-resistant.
At best, Tung oil can be classed as being a very water-repellent finish, one that will need a top coat sealer to really protect it from moisture and water damage.
So, is cured Tung oil food safe? Yes, it is. But is it a practical finish for a food prep surface? No, it is not.
How Long Before Tung Oil Is Food Safe? Tung oil needs to complete curing before it is deemed food safe. And Tung oil can take up to 30 days to wholly cure. But, it can take longer to cure in colder or more humid climates.
Does That Mean Tung Oil Is Not OK To Use On Cutting Boards And Utensils?
Here’s the thing; cutting boards and wooden spoons need regular washing.
And if you want to prevent harmful cross-contamination between raw and cooked food, you will need to rinse your chopping block often.
Now, if you use Tung oil to seal your cutting board, you will end up washing the Tung oil off right along with those soap suds.
Normally, this isn’t a problem in and of itself. That’s because it doesn’t matter what kind of oil you use to seal your cutting board with, all of them will wash off eventually. Which is why we reapply cutting board oil every 2-4 weeks.
However, Tung oil takes one month to cure. So, when you inevitably reapply Tung oil, you will have to set aside that cutting board for weeks on end, before it is ready to be safely used again.
That’s a lot of time wasted waiting for that oil to dry!
So, while you can use Tung oil to seal your cutting board, it is not practical to use oil for a chopping block.
So, What Is The Best Kind Of Oil You Can Use On A Cutting Board?
Use mineral oil. Or, to be more exact, use 100% pure food grade mineral oil.
Mineral oil is 100% food-safe, (it is even safe for human consumption). It is non-drying, (so no need to wait around for it to cure). And it is incredibly quick to apply, (you can start to use your cutting board within 24 hours of application).
And while this non-drying oil finish is made from petroleum distillate, it is a very refined petroleum, so it’s not toxic. Neither will it go rancid.
Best of all, you can get this stuff from any local store or pharmacy. Or you can buy Bayes High-Performance Food Grade Mineral Oil online.
Bayes mineral oil is 100% pure, and it will soak right into that chopping block in minutes.
Is Tung Oil The Same Thing As Mineral Oil?
No, these two oils are very different from one another.
Tung oil is a drying oil that will leave behind a hard film coat. Mineral oil is a non-drying oil that will leave behind a permanent ‘greasy’ feel.
Tung oil comes from the Tung tree. Mineral oil comes from petroleum. Tung oil is toxic. Mineral oil is non-toxic. And the list goes on…
The only point that these two oils do share is that they are both great wood preservatives. Both of them will soak into wood grain, making wood much less water absorbent.
What If You Want To Seal A Cutting Board With Tung Oil Anyway?
If you have your heart set on using Tung oil on your chopping block, then make you use a pure Tung oil product.
Pure Tung oil is made 100% from Tung oil. However, a surprising number of Tung oil marketed products, are anything but.
These are essentially faux-Tung oils that blend a little bit of Tung oil with polyurethane or varnish. They sometimes even include thinners and other chemicals.
Basically, faux-Tung oils are more of a Teak oil styled product, than anything. In some cases, they don’t even have any Tung oil in them whatsoever.
These faux-Tung oils should not be used on your cutting board, for the simple fact that they are made from a hodgepodge of ingredients (most of which aren’t food safe).
So, if you use Tung oil on a cutting board, always use a 100% pure Tung oil product, such as Liberons Pure Tung Oil.
Liberons market-leading premium oil finish can be used to seal wooden utensils, kitchen countertops and cutting boards. And this is all thanks to the fact that it does not include any dryer additives in it.
To Wrap Up, Here Are The 3 Main Takeaways…
- 1). After Tung oil has cured, it’s non-toxic. Which means you can use it to seal food prep surfaces.
- 2). Tung oil takes a very long time to dry and cure. So, it is impractical to use it as a cutting board oil.
- 3). Instead, use 100% pure food-grade mineral oil to seal and condition your cutting board.