Wood cutting boards can have advantages over plastic cutting boards. But for any cook in the kitchen, be it a beginner or master chef, it is important to know all the pros and cons of different types of cutting boards in order to safely and effectively slice and dice your next cuisine masterpiece.
What kind of advantages do wood cutting boards have over plastic cutting boards? Depending on the type of wood and grain, wood cutting boards will not scar easily, which prevents bacteria from growing, and they aren’t as rough on your knives as plastic cutting boards.
But there are pros and cons with all types of cutting boards. Most importantly, no matter what kind of cutting board you use, if it’s wood, plastic, bamboo, or hard rubber, if you’re not careful, you could be exposing yourself and your family to some serious illnesses.
The Lurking Dangers of Cutting Boards
For a long time, the wood cutting board got a bad rap because everyone imagined bacteria seeping into its porous surface, thus preventing someone from being able to clean it fully. Everyone automatically thought plastic cutting boards were safer because they can be easily disinfected and are dishwasher safe.
The truth is both can harbor bacteria.
Certain wood cutting boards do absorb bacteria. And bacteria can settle in the grooves of plastic cutting boards. One quick unintentional act of cross-contamination can find you nauseated with food poisoning, something that sends 128,000 Americans to the hospital each year.
Before you throw out all your cutting boards, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection, wood cutting boards, plastic cutting boards, and any other type of cutting board can be safe if you properly maintain them.
The most common boards are wood cutting boards and plastic, but there are a few lesser-known options too. Each kind of cutting board has pros and cons and certain ways you should care for them in order to prevent any illnesses, like food poisoning.
Wood Cutting Boards
When it comes to selecting the best wood cutting board, the two most important things to pay attention to are the grain and the type of wood. Both choices can significantly impact the number of bacteria absorbed by your board, as well as the impact the board has on your blades.
There are three types of grains used to make a wood cutting board: face grain, edge grain, or end (close) grain. The best choice is the end grain because the wood fibers are gentle on your knives and prevent scratches. These boards are easily identifiable because they look like checkerboards.
|Face Grain||Attractive, affordable||Scratches easily, more prone to warping and bacteria|
|Edge Grain||Attractive, more durable than Face Grain||Still prone to scratches|
|End (close) Grain||Knife friendly, extremely durable, keeps bacteria away||Expensive, requires more maintenance, heavy|
Hardwoods are the best kind of wood for cutting boards, such as:
If a board is made from softwood, such as hickory or pine, the board will scratch easily when used. And bacteria love scratches and grooves.
If you’re looking for the home run combination, you’ll want to look for a wood cutting board that is both a hardwood and an end grain. To help keep bacteria at bay and to extend the life of your wood cutting board, apply mineral oil after each use.
This leads to some of the tradeoffs of wood cutting boards. If you purchase a quality wood cutting board, it will require maintenance like applying mineral oil. Plus, they are heavy, not dishwasher safe, and can be expensive.
Cleaning and Sanitizing Your Cutting Board
No matter your choice, if you do your part to keep your board clean and maintained, you can prevent bacteria from lurking on your cutting board.
The Food and Drug Administration advises after each use of any cutting board that you wash the board all hot, soapy water, completely rinse the board, and then pat dry with a paper towel.
There may be a few more steps after washing and drying, depending on the type of cutting board:
|Cutting Board||After cleaning…|
|Wood cutting boards|
|Plastic cutting boards||1. Sanitize with 1 tablespoon of bleach per 1 gallon of water. Or a more eco-friendly sanitizing option is to use one-part vinegar to three-parts water.|
|Hard rubber cutting boards||No additional maintenance required.|
|Bamboo cutting boards|
The Final Rules of Cutting Boards
Whatever type of board your heart desires, you should always follow what is known as the “two-board rule.”
To be absolutely certain to avoid any possible cross-contamination, designate one board just for raw meat, poultry, and fish, and another board for fruits, vegetables, or anything else that you can eat raw.
It’s a pretty simple rule to follow that many chefs, pros or amateurs, follow to ensure they don’t unintentionally bring illness to themselves or others. No matter how much you clean and care for your cutting board, you just never know what might be left behind.
Second, just to be safe, if there are significant signs of wear and tear, the board should be tossed out and replaced immediately. Bacteria just love making all those grooves and cuts their home, and no matter what you do, you’ll just never know if the board is completely clean.