A sharp knife is right at the top of every cook’s arsenal of necessary tools. But it’s like a number of two-member cooking teams. Think salt and pepper, fish and chips, peanut butter and jelly. Your knife needs a cutting board to make it complete.
This is where the Big Debate begins. Is wood or plastic the better choice for a cutting board in your kitchen? Here is a look at the facts.
Aren’t All Cutting Boards Alike?
Actually, many cooks don’t understand the entire debate. For them, a cutting board is a cutting board. Plop the chicken or cantaloupe or radish down on anything firm, and just start cutting.
It does matter. True, both wood and plastic provide a solid surface for slicing, dicing and carving. But each material has intrinsic properties that impact how safe and effective they are for food preparation.
Plastic Cutting Boards
Plastic cutting boards come in a range of sizes, colors and designs. They are inexpensive and can be safely into the dishwasher. That’s why many cooks believe that plastic cutting boards are safer. If you can put anything in the dishwasher, it gets sanitized thoroughly, right? Not necessarily.
Plastic develops tiny cuts and scars each time the knife lands on it. Bacteria collects in these grooves. Over time, even the dishwasher doesn’t remove the toxins entirely.
Studies have shown that hand washing a plastic cutting board, using a sponge, hot water and liquid detergent left bacteria on the surface and in grooves. It simply isn’t thorough enough to reach the pathogens in the tiny crevices on the board.
Even bleach sprayed on to disinfect the plastic won’t work on older boards. On new boards, bleach and other disinfectants do get rid of bacteria. But the boards quickly develop lots of tiny grooves, which are impervious to the chemical action. The result is that the bacteria remains and grows in the many miniscule gouges that rapidly start developing with the first use.
Wood Cutting Boards
On the other hand, a wood cutting board has intrinsic properties that resist bacteria growth. According to experts, scientists researched the life of salmonella bacteria on both plastic and wood cutting boards. Wood won. In the study, the bacteria on the wood board sank into the surface. The bacteria could not grow and multiply and gradually died off.
Wood does develop nicks and cuts over time from the knife blade. But it has natural properties that allow for self-healing. The grooves fill in slightly by themselves. That’s why a wood cutting board looks attractive for years, showing much less wear than plastic.
Keeping All Boards Safe
Scientists say that every type of cutting board needs regular care to keep it safe. It also preserves the cutting surface, keeping it even and smooth. The FDA says that cooks should clean and sanitize their cutting board after every use. Boards that show signs of use, with many scratches and grooves, should be replaced.
Keep your wood cutting board sanitary and clean with these quick tips:
- Wash your board after every use.
- Air dry it thoroughly. Hanging it up to dry is a convenient way to handle this.
- Periodically rub it with mineral oil to stop it from absorbing moisture and bacteria.
These simple tips also prolong the life of your knife. Hardwood boards, like maple, walnut and cherry, don’t wear down the blade’s sharpness as quickly.
Consider using one cutting board for raw poultry and meat, and a second for vegetables, fruits and cooked food. This will prevent cross-contamination.