When it comes to cutting boards, it’s easy to grab the cheapest one and not give it another thought. The cheap cutting boards you find at the store are typically going to be made of plastic. Yes, that tomato-shaped cutting board at Target is adorable, but is it safe to use?
We use cutting boards for all sorts of food at home. You don’t want to be worried that the chicken you cut last night could infiltrate its way into your salad the next day by way of cutting board bacteria. Don’t worry, there are safe cutting board options, and they’re made of wood!
If you’ve worked in kitchens, they probably told you plastic cutting boards are more sanitary. Well, this is not the case. As you’ll soon find out, plastic cutting boards can harbour even more bacteria, while wooden cutting boards are natural hunters of dangerous bacteria.
Which bacterias can be secretly hiding in your cutting boards?
There are several types of bacteria that can be found on cutting boards known to cause food poisoning, including:
- Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli
You’ve probably heard of them, and you definitely don’t want them taking up residence on your cutting board. If you’ve ever experienced food poisoning, you also know how terrible it can be. Ensuring you have clean and safe wooden cutting boards will keep you from dealing with an unpleasant night hugging the toilet.
While you can easily clean the surface, the problem lies with either leaving it out dirty overnight or having crevices for the bacteria to creep into.
Plastic Cutting Boards and Bacteria
Let’s look at why plastic cutting boards aren’t great. Plastic cutting boards are advertised as easy to clean, and they’re cheap. You should be able to throw them in the dishwasher and that’s that.
While this will work with a brand spanking new one, think about a plastic cutting board you’ve owned. They become riddled with nooks and crannies from all of that slicing and chopping. Research shows the little slices in your plastic cutting board become a breeding ground for bacteria.
If you have a plastic cutting board, don’t put it in the dishwasher. Make sure to scrub it with a good brush and soap to get into all the little crevices. Once it’s full of a noticeable amount of cuts and scratches, it’s time to throw that thing away and get yourself a nice end grain wooden cutting board.
Wooden Cutting Boards and Bacteria
When plastic cutting boards hit the scene, they were advertised as the more sanitary option. Wooden cutting boards were slandered and it was thought that they were absorbing bacteria making them unsafe to use. Don’t worry, science is here to defend the wooden cutting board’s honour.
According to the New York Times, microbiologists at the University of Wisconsin’s Food Research Institute made an important discovery about wooden cutting boards. They found that wooden cutting boards actually kill off food-poisoning bacteria that make a cozy home out of plastic ones. This research debunks all of the advertising that’s been done to dethrone wooden cutting boards as the best option.
The discovery was found when scientists were trying to make wooden boards as safe as plastic ones. So, if you believed plastic was better, don’t worry. So did the scientists!
Wooden cutting boards are going to get cuts from knives just like plastic ones, but they will be deeper. That means the bacteria will fall into them and die off, instead of thriving in a shallow cut on a plastic board. Fortunately, when the bacteria are deep down in the crevices, they are also unlikely to come in contact with new items on the board.
If you’re the type of person who leaves dishes overnight, the study showed that bacteria thrived on a plastic cutting board, but not on a wooden one. When you’re looking at a wooden cutting board, it can be easy to assume that the bacteria from raw meats would soak into the porous wood – As you’re about to learn, this is actually not the case!
The types of wood used for cutting boards will typically have very small pores. That means that moisture, bacteria, and anything else is unlikely to absorb into the wood.
While all wooden cutting boards are going to be better for killing off bacteria, some types of wood are better than others.
Best Types of Wooden Cutting Boards
Wood comes in all sorts of textures, hardness, and colours. You may have a style preference to fit your aesthetic, but you may want to know about the different types of wood before investing in a cutting board.
While it is the cheapest and most accessible option on our list, bamboo is not a great option when looking for a cutting board. It is still better for handling bacteria than a plastic cutting board, however, bamboo cutting boards are notorious for dulling your knives. While you are still safe from bacteria you are not safe from the dangers of a dull knife. The more pressure you have to use to chop, the greater the force headed for an ‘out of place’ finger. Yikes!
Bamboo is a very soft and porous wood which is the reason for its knife dulling properties and why bamboo is so easy to stain. If you love your sharp knives, avoid at all costs.
Maple is excellent for wooden cutting boards. Soft and hard maple are both good options, but you’ll typically find that most boards will be made of hard maple. This is because it’s more scratch-resistant than other types of wood. Hard maple is also impact-resistant, so it’s going to be better for your knives.
Most hard maple is closed-grained, which means it will have smaller pores. This means that it’s less likely to provide a home for sneaky bacteria. They are also less likely to stain, but when they do it’s difficult to clean
Beech is another closed-grained wood. It’s second to maple in resistance to scratches and impact. The small pores make it an excellent choice for wooden cutting boards to keep bacteria at bay. With beech, you have to keep in mind that it’s lighter in colour, so stains and scratches will show. Out of the hardwood options, beech is typically the most affordable.
Teak is a closed-grained wood that is also commonly used for cutting boards. It has larger pores, so it is more susceptible to bacteria and moisture, so you’ve got to make sure you clean your teak cutting board properly. It’s also important to keep in mind that teak wood has a high amount of silica in it, so you run the risk of dulling your knives.
Walnut and Cherry
Walnut and Cherry are both on the softer end of closed-grained woods. They won’t dull your knives but will scratch more easily than maple. This type of wood has medium-sized pores, and will be better for protecting against bacteria than teak, but not as well as maple.
Cleaning a Wooden Cutting Board
When it’s time to clean your wooden cutting board, do not just chuck it in the dishwasher with a soap pod. If you can’t clean it right after you use it, make sure it doesn’t come in contact with any other dishes.
Before cleaning it, be sure to remove any excess food stuck to it. All you need is a sponge and hot soapy water, preferably unscented soap. Scrub both sides of the board thoroughly, even if only one side looks dirty. If you only clean one side, you run the risk of warping the cutting board and decreasing the lifespan. Let it dry, and finished with beeswax board conditioner. This is the secret to gracefully aging a cutting board that will look better as the years go by.
Benefits of Wooden Cutting Boards
Now that we know why wooden cutting boards are safer than plastic, let’s talk about some of the other benefits.
Wooden Cutting Boards are Durable
One of the best benefits of a wooden cutting board is that it’s long-lasting. They are extremely durable compared to their plastic competitors. If you are intending on using your cutting board daily, a wooden one is the best choice.
You don’t have to worry about a thick wooden cutting board snapping such as a plastic one might. They can take a beating without ruining your knives. When you’re preparing foods like raw meat that can be riddled with bacteria, you need a safe surface that won’t spread the germs around, and a wooden cutting board is just that.
They’re Easy to Care For
You already have to spend time taking care of your knives, so who wants to spend more time on their cutting board? Wooden cutting boards are easy to clean and take care of to ensure they last a long time. All you need to do is give them a good scrub and dry after use,to keep your cutting board food safe.
Wooden Cutting Boards are Stylish
If you’ve ever seen a wooden cutting board, you know they look good. You can choose a wood type and finish that matches your kitchen aesthetic. No one wants to be seen with a plain old plastic cutting board when they have company!
Wooden cutting boards have a traditional look to them and look especially great when you match them to your butcher block.
To sum it up, advertising lied to us, and plastic cutting boards aren’t as safe as once thought. If you want to make sure you’re preparing food on a safe surface, always go with a wooden cutting board. To be on an even safer side, have several wooden cutting boards for different types of prep.
There are several varieties of wood to choose from, so do your research to find what’s best for you. Most importantly, have fun chopping!