This article focuses on food contact safe paints that can be used on residential household items like tabletops, serving trays (or boards), highchairs, countertops, and decorative bowls.
For these applications, we won’t find paints that are officially FDA tested. That is because most paints will meet food-safe requirements.
Most paints will not leach chemicals once they are fully cured. Water-based and solvent-based paints do not leach bisphenols (only epoxy paints leach bisphenols), phthalates (found in caulking but not in paints), or lead (the main ingredient that made some paints not safe for food contact in the past).
Does that mean any paint can be used on food contact surfaces? It depends on how you use the item, but I would say no.
We are going to go further at metal leaching to start. Lead is not the only metal of concern, many paints contain toxic metals today. We will check paints against a Toy Safe certification which checks for leaching of metals (as if you had ingested the paint accidentally).
I will also use the FDA’s list of approved ingredients to vet paints.
The list of paints in this article gives priority to brands that are very low or zero-VOC. However, if you have used a solvent-based paint that has fully cured, that can be safe too, it just takes longer to cure, and is not non-toxic for some time.
Whether a paint is food-safe really depends on how you are using it. We are focusing here on objects like tables and trays, where you might place some foods or have some incidental contact. The items will not be going into a dishwasher, the items are not bowls that you eat liquid food out of, and they are not items that go directly into your mouth. I personally would not use any paint on a cutting board, as no paint is suited to actual ingestion on a regular basis.
The article includes my nine top brands of paints that I would use on food contact areas, from 100% natural options, to the healthiest of the acrylic paint brands, to some hardier more conventional options.
This post contains affiliate links. Upon purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
There are three main regulations that we are going to use to determine if a paint or coating is food-grade or food-safe.
First, to clarify the terms, food-grade refers to the material, and food-safe refers to the product being safe in the actual conditions that the material is being used in.
The FDA states in 117.40 in Subpart B “Food-contact surfaces must be made of non-toxic materials and designed to withstand the environment of their intended use and the action of food, and, if applicable, cleaning compounds, sanitizing agents, and cleaning procedures.”
Regulations we will consider:
1. FDA Title 21, Section 175.300
Section 175:300 lists cleared ingredient materials for resinous and polymeric coatings. Paints can be tested by this regulation (extraction testing), certified by a third party, or the company can provide a signed letter of guarantee that it meets the requirements. Most paints unfortunately do not have these official documents. For those that don’t, we can use the list of approved ingredients in 175:300 to see if a product would likely fit within this regulation.
Paints used in the home, for tabletops, high chairs, and other consumer goods are not officially tested.
(We should note that this is not the only regulation for paint ingredient safety in the US, there can also be national, and state laws like California Prop 65 that apply to ingredients in coatings).
2. FDA Title 21, Section 174
Section 174 lists ingredients considered GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) for their intended use. For example, Carnauba wax, an ingredient in many wax coatings, is GRAS and therefore is considered safe in coatings.
3. Toy Safe Standard EN 71:2019
This is a European standard, but there are a number of certified brands that sell their products in North America as well, so this turned out to be a useful regulation for the paints in this article.
This tests for the leaching of toxic elements such as aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, boron, cadmium, Chromium (III), Chromium (VI), cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, selenium, strontium, tin, organic tin, and zinc.
This standard simulates the leaching of metals in the stomach as if the paint were ingested by a child.
There is no equivalent testing in North America, so it’s good we have some brands tested in Europe that are available in North America.
Paint Cure Times
The final thing we want to keep in mind before looking at the best brands to use is how long it takes to cure. The paint should be fully cured before we put it to use on food contact areas.
Water-based zero-VOC paints generally need two weeks to cure to the point of not offgassing chemicals. Be sure to check the time frame based on when you can begin wiping down the paint or when the company says it’s food contact safe. Solvent-based paints take longer for the solvents to flash off. At least a month is needed for those paints before you should put food on them. I can often pick up offgassing for more than a month off of solvent-based paints.
Food Grade/Food Contact Safe Paints
1. Milk Paint
Milk Paint, when it comes in powder form, is an all-natural, non-toxic wood finish labeled as food-safe.
You could use this on a table or on kids’ toys. To make it durable you need to add a (food-safe), sealant, oil, or wax.
The Real Milk Company does not use clay in the formula so there’s no risk of possible metal contamination there. The pigments are titanium dioxide (the white pigment in every paint), and iron oxides. The green does contain Chromium (III) which would probably not leave it Toy Safe by European standards (depending on real-life leachability and durability of the topcoat). The topcoat might provide enough protection, but their paints are not tested with or without topcoats.
Old Fashioned Milk Paint has tested its product against Toy Safe Standard EN-71 in Europe. Not all colors passed the metal leaching tests (whites and blues did not make the cut). The following colors are certified safe: Scarlett (red), Marigold yellow, Mustard, Pumpkin, Salem Red, Barn Red, Bayberry Green, Tavern Green, Lexington (dark green), and Pitch Black.
Food Safe Top Coats for Milk Paint
For toys, tables, trays, and wood countertops, you definitely want to use a (food-safe) sealer as a topcoat which will make it durable.
Tung oil is the most durable of the food-safe penetrating oils (just be sure to use the food-safe citrus solvent and give it the full 30 days to cure). On high wear surfaces, you may need to lightly re-coat every year (exterior) or two years (interior).
Use on: Ideal on bare wood, terra-cotta, concrete. Interior and exterior with the right topcoat.
Applications: Trays, tables, desks, highchairs, wooden countertops, concrete countertops, concrete and terra-cotta pots (more info on that here) and display bowls, planters (more info on that here), charcuterie boards, toys.
2. Natural Linseed Oil Paint
Allbäck paints are made from food-safe linseed oil with a manganese drier. Manganese is allowed in food contact coatings by the FDA but not by Toy Safe regulations in Europe. (i.e. this would probably pass FDA testing but not Toy Safe Testing if I had to guess).
The Allbäck Linseed Oil Paint is very durable and so it would work well on tabletops and other high-wear areas. The paint remains somewhat flexible, so it doesn’t dry hard like an enamel. It leaves a flat look.
The Viking and Ottosson paint brands use a natural drier, but the company didn’t say that it is definitely manganese. You would ideally want to know which metal/mineral is used as the drier.
Pigments like Chromium in some brands would also not leave this Toy Safe.
Use on: Virtually any surface that is clean and dry other than silicone. You can use it on wood, concrete, sheet metal, iron, and plastic. Interior and exterior surfaces.
Applications: Wood, metal, or melamine trays; wood, metal, or melamine furniture, including tabletops and highchairs; wood, concrete or laminate countertops; toys and playsets other than toys that will go in a child’s mouth; the exterior of mason jars and lids; the exterior of metal food storage containers; terra-cotta pots (more info on that here) and exterior planter boxes (more info on that here).
Buy through their website.
3. AFM Safecoat Paints and Primers – Low-VOC Acrylic
AFM MetalCoat is a primer for metal. It can be followed by any of the AFM paints.
They aren’t officially FDA-approved via testing as food-safe, but once it’s fully cured and if it doesn’t go into a dishwasher, it is considered to be safe based on their ingredients.
This paint is low-VOC and can be used on interior and exterior bare metal. It can be used on galvanized steel, aluminum, and any non-ferrous metal.
AFM Transitional Primer is used if you are painting over an oil-based paint.
Use on: MetalCoat for bare metal. All Purpose for wood or previously painted surfaces. EXT as a clear sealer over water-based paint. Interior and exterior surfaces.
Applications: MetalCoat for: metal food storage containers, bowls, mason jar lids, bare metal playsets. All Purpose Paint + EXT for tabletops.
Buy AFM primers and paints through Green Design Center/Building for Health.
4. ECOS Paint – 0-VOC Acrylic
A water-based zero-VOC paint that is non-toxic once it dries and can be used on tables and toys.
ECOS Paints is a zero-VOC acrylic (latex) paint, it is considered defacto food-safe, though they are not FDA approved since they haven’t undergone the testing.
But they are EN-71 Certified (Europe) for use on children’s toys, which could be placed in a child’s mouth.
Acrylic Latex paint in a semigloss or gloss sheen is a good choice for tabletops and other furniture. Both are easy to wipe clean with soap and water and, once cured, are safe to eat on.
They also make primers, including a primer for previously painted metal, and exterior applications.
Use on: Wood, surfaces previously painted with water-based paint. Interior and exterior surfaces.
Applications: Tables, desks, high chairs, cribs, serving trays, toys, play equipment/playsets.
Buy ECOS Paints through their website.
5. Chalk Paint + Clear Lacquer
Chalk Paint is a super low-odor non-toxic paint that adheres to almost every surface. The paint itself is certified Toy Safe (EN-71-3) but it needs a topcoat to be durable.
If you are painting a dining table, highchair, or other furniture piece, (and for most toys as well) you can add a clear Chalk Paint Lacquer to make it super durable. This is a water-based polyacrylic clear coat that is certified Toy Safe (EN 71-3:2013) and is safe to use on toys and furniture like dining tables. Both the Matte and Gloss finishes are durable. It goes on perfectly clear and dries quickly without yellowing over time.
Use on: Chalk Paint sticks to wood, metal, glass, ceramics, most plastics, cardboard, terra-cotta, concrete, shellac, and previously painted materials (with water or oil-based paint). Interior projects.
Applications: Glass jars and vases (like mason jars), metal storage containers, display bowls, tables, desks, melamine furniture, high chairs, cribs, toys, serving trays (metal, plastic, wood, or melamine), playsets.
In North America, you want to look for individual stockists of Chalk Paint.
6. Farrow and Ball
Farrow & Ball‘s super-low odor 100% water-based paint meets Toy Safety Standards. Their Estate Emulsion, Estate Eggshell, Modern Emulsion, Modern Eggshell, Exterior Eggshell, and Full Gloss have been independently tested and approved to meet the Toy Paint Regulations.
Not all of their paint sheens would be durable enough for furniture. They recommend Modern Eggshell (40% sheen) for most furniture pieces, like dressers and cribs, tabletops, serving trays, and high chairs. It is tough, washable & wipeable.
Use on: With the proper primer, you can use Farrow and Ball products on new wood, previously painted wood, ferrous and non-ferrous metal (except cast iron). They have interior and exterior paints.
Applications: Cribs, dressers, tables, serving trays, high chairs, wooden or previously painted toys.
Buy through their website.
7. Rustoleum 8400 Food & Beverage Alkyd Paint
This interior enamel paint is suitable for use in food and beverage applications. Enamel paints are far more durable than latex paints (or any paint listed above).
The 8400 Food and Beverage System complies with USDA FSIS regulatory sanitation performance standards for food establishment facilities.
This is a little different than the FDA Title 21 which looks at ingredients in the paint that come in direct contact with food. The USDA looks at indirect contaminants that may come in incidental contact with food – ensuring “the floors, walls and ceilings… (are) smooth and easily cleanable” so they won’t collect bacteria, and that ceiling coatings are intact. USDA compliant systems must hold up to the intended use in a specific process area. (source)
Because this is a durable enamel coating it can meet those regulations.
There is a Prop 65 Warning on it, however.
This is rather high in VOCs at <450g/L. It’s a solvent-based paint, so that will be very smelly at first and certainly takes some time to fully offgas. The main solvent is petroleum. I normally would not recommend solvent-based paints on my blog but I’m mentioning this one because it meets USDA regulations.
Use on: Metal, wood.
Applications: Equipment, structural steel, pipes, metal cabinets and lockers, railings, trim, doors and gates, vents, and more.
Buy through Amazon, Grainger, and Menards.
8. Rustoleum Painter’s Choice (Brush on)
A water-based paint for both interior and exterior projects, Painter’s Choice brush-on paint is Certified Toy Safe (EN71-3: 2019, Europe).
The following colors are not certified toy safe: Gold, Antique Gold, Bronze, and Old Penny Bronze.
It’s called Painter’s Touch Multipurpose Paint in the UK and Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover in the US.
This paint is not low in VOCs at <250 g/l. The solvents are water and glycol ethers. The data sheets describe the odor as solvent-like. The company recommends a full cure time of one week for toys. Based on my testing of the spray paint version, I would say give it at least two weeks to cure. Even at one month, I could pick up slight offgassing. This is not a paint I would normally use or recommend since I would not consider this low-toxin or non-toxic, but once it has sufficient time to cure I would consider it safe, and I would not be worried about this paint in daily use.
Use on: Wood, metal, plaster, masonry, and unglazed ceramic.
Applications: Toys and children’s furniture, tabletops, crafts, vases, trays, baskets.
9. Fakolith Paint
Fakolith is a European company that makes food-grade paints and varnishes that are tested and certified for direct, indirect, and occasional contact with food, beverages, and drinking water, according to European regulation EU 10/2011, and/or American regulation FDA 21 CFR 175.300.
They make various products including clear sealants, acrylic enamel paints, and a food-grade epoxy paint.
Applications: Protecting surfaces such as food and beverage silos, tanks, pipes, fish farms, transport elements, printed food packaging, shells and barks, as well as walls, ceilings, flooring, sandwich panel, cold stores, clean rooms, and installations and objects in general in all sectors of the food industry.
Food Contact Safe Sealants for Over Paint
You might consider sealing your painted surface with a food contact safe coating to add a layer of protection.
1. Epoxy Coating
Epoxy coatings are thick and form a very good barrier between the paint and you. Epoxy generally contains bisphenols (like BPA), however. This can still be considered food contact safe by the FDA, though not always by state regulations.
I generally don’t talk about epoxies on this website since they are very strong in odor when wet. The two parts need to come together and form a chemical reaction. While it is still curing can be very difficult to tolerate for those sensitive to chemicals. Though once it cures it should be just fine. The cure time is not always what they say, real-life conditions can mean it takes longer.
Epoxies are often used on trays, tabletops, bartops, countertops, bowls, and cups.
The following brands are FDA approved as food-safe:
2. Clear Synthetic Sealer
A clear polyurethane, acrylic, or polyacrylic sealer can be used over a painted wood or other painted surface to form an extra layer of durability and protection. Most brands of low and zero-VOC polyurethane, acrylic, and polyacrylic are likely food-safe, though most are not tested by the FDA’s standards. They are considered food-safe based on the raw ingredients.
Good brands include:
While many websites and companies state that shellac is considered GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by the FDA, that does not appear to be accurate. This document by the FDA states that shellac is not GRAS, it’s also not listed in the GRAS database here.
It is however listed as an approved raw ingredient in resinous and polymeric coatings that come into contact with food (FDA CFR title 21 Volume 3 Sec. 175.300 Resinous and Polymeric Coatings) and it is used to coat foods, even organic foods can be coated with approved shellacs. I consider shellac to be very safe for food contact surfaces. If you were going to eat it you would want to look more closely at how it was processed.
Zinsser Shellac, the biggest brand of premixed shellac products are not FDA approved for food contact surfaces.
It would be ideal to buy the shellac from a reputable seller like Wellermart and mix it with a food-grade alcohol like Everclear.
Food Safe Spray Paint
I don’t know of any spray paints that are officially food contact safe. But like other paints above, once cured, they could be considered safe based on raw ingredients.
Spray paints are also higher in VOCs than brush-on paints, even the best water-based spray paints use a solvent propellant. For solvent-based spray paints, most of them were still offgassing at one month’s time. My post on non-toxic spray paints goes over brands that are much safer that could be used on furniture.
Krylon said: “We don’t manufacture a product that is FDA approved [to be food-safe]. An FDA approval is important in terms of whether a product film is safe for incidental ingestion. We do not perform animal testing and cannot test for ingestion. Therefore, we offer nothing that is guaranteed to be food safe if it is ingested or encounters someone’s mouth. Having said that, many of our customers apply our products on countertops. Just make sure to set or prepare food on a cutting board/trivet/food-safe surface.”
None of Rustoleum’s spray paints are food safe, they said in an email.
Paints and Sealers for Planter Boxes
Paints and Sealers for Terra-Cotta Pots
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 7 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
FDA Title 21, Section 175.300