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What is a safe wood for contact with food?

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Blog entry by richgreer posted 1679 days ago 1279 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

When making something that will have contact with food (e.g. cutting boards) I very concerned about woods that may be harmful to food. That forces me to stick with very basic maple and cherry and walnut (I know that some people even question walnut).

I assume we can mitigate the risk with the finish we use, but I’m not sure how much I can rely on that.

I would really like to use some exotic woods (bubinga, padauk, wenge, etc.) in the cutting boards that I make but I am reluctant due to health concerns.

Can anyone opine on this and/or point me to a source for good information on this subject?

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.



8 comments so far

View Max's profile

Max

55956 posts in 2904 days


#1 posted 1679 days ago

Here is a link that shows the toxicity of woods that maybe of value to you.

http://www.cs.rochester.edu/u/roche/rec.wood.misc/wood.toxic

-- Max "Desperado", Salt Lake City, UT

View reggiek's profile

reggiek

2240 posts in 1901 days


#2 posted 1679 days ago

The standard logic against using exotic woods is that they are usually fumigated for entry into this country. The fumigant used is in the form of a gas that is not pressurized. The wood is not soaked or saturated in any other substance. This all means that the fumigant is surface only or in areas of the wood exposed (i.e. bug holes, cracks, checks or surface imperfections.) That covers what is done to the wood entering the USA…other countries have their own laws and procedures which should be investigated if concerned.

Wood treated for entry into the USA – Toxic Removal can be done by sanding or otherwise removing the area exposed to the fumigant (I have read some literature recommending soaking in vinegars, salts and sodas – but do not have enough data as to the results). Using a food safe poly such as General Finishes Salad Bowl Finish would probably be sufficient for use on a food container (bowls, platters..etc)...for cutting boards you may wish to remove a reasonable amount of the surface to eliminate any of the toxic fumigant being exposed to food due to the scraping/cutting action of the knives or other utensils.

Other then that the only problem would be to a person sensitive or allergic to that type of wood….and the table that Max has provided is a good source to determine the possibility there.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View zlatanv's profile

zlatanv

689 posts in 1865 days


#3 posted 1679 days ago

I’ve been told tight grain is good and to avoid open grain like oak, but have seen people use it. Blood wood not good, I think Blake had a post on here with a bad reaction to it. I’d also be interested to see other ideas.

-- Z, Rockwall, TX

View Eagle1's profile

Eagle1

2066 posts in 1696 days


#4 posted 1679 days ago

I was in a exotic wood shop one day, that I didn’t know was there. He told about a wood that I had bought from a place. He told me that it was part of the poision ivy family. He told me to google toxic woods. Looked it up pretty interesting.

-- Tim, Missouri ....Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the heck happened

View cbMerlin's profile

cbMerlin

98 posts in 2052 days


#5 posted 1679 days ago

Can’t answer your question specifically, but can tell you that after almost 40 years in food service, almost nobody uses wood any more. Perhaps ocassional home use is OK. It’s just too hard to sanitize. Cutting boards, regardless of material used, develop small cuts in them. These small cuts are the ideal place for bacteria to hide. This bacteria can develop into some pretty nasty stuff. The procedures to kill this bacteria; high temperatures, quaternary cleaners or bleach can be pretty hard on any wood creating even more splits and even more places for the bacteria to hide and before you know it, the board is completely unusable. In foodservice we typically have different cutting boards for specific use; Seafood, chicken, beef, veggies. Generally they are of different colors to be used for different product to help prevent cross-contamination. I really don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but ever time I see wood cutting boards, I wonder about the bacteria count on them. Ever get indigestion and think “It must have been something I ate”?, you’re probably right.

-- Sawdust looks better in the garage than cars, explain that to your wife!

View Moron's profile

Moron

4666 posts in 2525 days


#6 posted 1679 days ago

I have my great grandparents cutting board/butcher block and its made from hard maple.

They both lived into their 100’s

Grandparents hit the high nineties ( and he smokes like their was a cure for cancer and owned his own distillery)

My father is pushing 90

It would appear the hidden bacteria didnt affect them

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View cbMerlin's profile

cbMerlin

98 posts in 2052 days


#7 posted 1679 days ago

With most professions or serious hobbiests, when you add experience, advice from others and education, things become second nature, you become better and safer.

As a result of someone suggesting it or reading about it somewhere, I use push sticks, feather boards & blade guards while operating my table saw. Some don’t, they’re either unaware of the dangers or I guess they’re willing to take the risk. Once you actually experience the danger, it’s too late and probably wish you had taken safety precautions. As a result I have all my fingers and have not experienced an accident.

As a result of someone suggesting it or reading about it somewhere, while working in the shop, I wear eye protection. Some don’t, they’re either unaware of the dangers or I guess they’re willing to take the risk. Once you actually experience the danger, it’s too late and probably wish you had taken safety precautions. As a result, I still have both eyes, they’re getting old, but both still work fairly well.

While in the shop, not everyone practices safety, and many never have a problem, but that certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take appropriate precautions.

Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) bacteria (typically found in pork products) is already responsible for more deaths in this country than AIDS.

I watched as my brother fought, for six days in the hospital, Staphylococcus. Thankfully he recovered.

Take whatever risks you’re comfortable with.

-- Sawdust looks better in the garage than cars, explain that to your wife!

View zlatanv's profile

zlatanv

689 posts in 1865 days


#8 posted 1679 days ago

Saw this yesterday, interesting, http://faculty.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/faculty/docliver/Research/cuttingboard.htm

-- Z, Rockwall, TX

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