Many years ago, our government advised against using wooden cutting boards, saying they were more difficult to keep hygienically clean than plastic cutting boards. Recent research, however, shows that a wood cutting board is no more likely than a plastic one to harbor harmful bacteria. So it’s fine to use either as long as you follow a few basic rules. Cutting boards of various shapes and sizes are very important tools in any home where meals are freshly prepared.
However, if you ask any chef or home cook what the single most important tool in the kitchen is and he or she will almost certainly give you the same answer: a chef’s knife. One, dependable all-purpose chef’s knife — and knowing how to use it — is going to make the biggest impact on your cooking, whether you’re a newbie in the kitchen or an experienced restaurant chef.
First, use at least two cutting boards to avoid cross-contamination. “Have one board for raw meat, fish, and poultry. Have a separate board for bread, fruits, and vegetables.
The Department of Agriculture suggests washing wooden and plastic cutting boards with hot, soapy water, or cleaning plastic cutting boards in your dishwasher. Sanitize all cutting boards periodically by flooding the surface with a diluted bleach solution (1 gallon of water mixed with 1 tablespoon of bleach), and then rinse with plain water. Always dry cutting boards thoroughly before storing them. This robs bacteria of needed moisture for growth. I prefer a hard wood cutting board — like maple or beech wood — because it won’t scar as easily as plastic and you won’t have to replace it as often if you are diligent about upkeep
Over time, any cutting board (plastic or wood) can trap bacteria in fissures and transfer them to food the next time you use it. Harder materials, such as bamboo and maple, are less prone to scarring than softer woods, such as cypress. Replace any cutting board when it becomes heavily scarred. There’s still much debate on the matter and the FDA’s official opinion is that both wood and plastic are safe so long as they’re cleaned well and replaced often. When boards “become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves,” — we’re looking at you, plastic — you need to get a new one.
Plastic has long been considered superior to wood, and people have generally preferred this type of material in the name of food safety. The prevailing wisdom is that plastic is less hospitable to bacteria, and therefore, would be safer.
However, research simply does not bear this out in practice, however. As it turns out, wood is much less likely to harbor pathogenic bacteria than plastic! What?
Wood by far makes for the best cutting boards!
The research was conducted by food microbiologists at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and they discovered that wood somehow killed bacteria that plastic did not. The manner in which the bacteria perished on the wood but not on the plastic is not known.
The scientists found those 3 minutes after contaminating a wooden cutting board, 99.9% of the pathogenic bacteria had died, while none of the bacteria died on plastic.
In addition, bacteria held at room temperature overnight on a plastic cutting board increased in number, but the researchers could not find any bacteria present on wood treated in exactly the same manner.
So it seems that the prevailing “wisdom” that plastic is safer than wood is not true after all. I was happy to discover this information as I have always intuitively preferred wood over plastic cutting boards. I find wood to be more stable than plastic and I have always thought that little bits of plastic or chemicals must be somehow released into the food from the repeated chopping with a knife. I have no evidence of this; it is just a hunch and so I have stayed away from plastic and have always stuck with wood.
I have steered clear of plastic cutting boards with special antimicrobial surfaces for a similar reason.
For the best cutting boards, best to stick with old fashioned wood, and while you’re at it – choose bamboo if possible as it is a sustainable natural resource.
Note: As an aside, I have a theory about how the pathogenic bacteria are destroyed on the wood but not the plastic. Lactobacilli are beneficial bacteria on the surface of all natural things, including our own skin, and it will kill off pathogens.
This is why grass fed raw milk is safer than pasteurized as the probiotics in the raw milk kill off any pathogens that might get into it (pasteurized just gets contaminated if the same thing were to happen). Perhaps this is the same method for how pathogens on wood cutting boards are destroyed within 3 minutes yet this same thing does not happen on plastic cutting boards?