What is the Healthiest and Safest Cutting Board for Your Kitchen?
You might already have a cutting board in your kitchen and use it to cut and chop produce, meat, and other foods. If not, you might be in search of a new one. When shopping for cutting boards, you have a wealth of options. If you visit a houseware department of a store, you'll discover boards made of plastic, wood, glass, and bamboo. You might like the look of one cutting board over another, but you might also wonder if one is safer or poses less of a health risk than another. Let's look at some pros and cons of various types of cutting boards, so you can make the best selection.
Plastic Cutting Boards
A plastic cutting board, usually made of polyethylene, is one of the least expensive options for your kitchen. The problem with using a board made of plastic is the sharp edge of the knife can make tiny scratches on the plastic surface. Those scratches may be hard to see, but still large enough for bacteria from the food you're preparing to lodge in those itsy-bitsy cracks. The next time you cut food on that board, the bacteria hiding in the cracks can make contact with it and increase your risk of food poisoning.
On the plus side, plastic boards are easy to care for since you can pop one in the dishwasher, but if the nicks and scratches are deep enough, it might be hard to remove all the bacteria on the board. It's safer to wash in hot water and soap and then use a scouring sponge to clean around any nicks or scratches. If you cut raw meat on a cutting board, sanitize the board with a chlorine-based sanitizer to ensure there isn't living bacteria remaining on the board.
Another problem with plastic is how it wears over time. A plastic board can warp enough to distort its shape so it doesn't lie flat. A warped board is less stable when you apply pressure, and the board can wobble while you're cutting on it. Don't take a chance with your hands and fingers by chopping food on a warped or misshapen board.
Wooden Cutting Boards
How about a more natural option, like wood? Wooden cutting boards have a smooth, rustic feel that many people like. Plus, hardwood cutting boards are more resistant to scratches, whereas a softer wood might, like plastic, end up with nicks and scratches that trap bacteria. Softwood has a larger, looser grain that causes it to form more grooves where bacteria can stick and lodge.
A hardwood cutting board is the safest options if you're concerned about bacteria since it's less likely to get scratched and form nicks where bacteria can lodge and hide. Heavy wood offers the greatest stability, so the board is less likely to shift and cause you to cut a finger.
Hardwood boards are also less porous than ones made of softwood, meaning they're less likely to absorb moisture or bacteria. Experts also say they're safest for cutting meat. When you cut raw meat, a porous surface, like a softwood board, can absorb the juice from the meat and it can be hard to completely remove. You can make a soft wooden cutting board less porous by oiling the surface of the wood to create an additional barrier against moisture and bacteria.
Unlike a plastic cutting board, don't use a chlorine-based sanitizer on a wood board, since it can harm the wood.
Bamboo Cutting Boards
Bamboo boards are popular with folks who are eco-conscious, since bamboo is highly renewable, especially compared to some types of wood. It's also durable and inexpensive and even harder than wood. However, bamboo can splinter. When it does, bacteria can easily lodge in the splintered areas. Because bamboo is more porous than a board made of hardwood, it's best to oil the surface to create an additional barrier against bacteria and moisture.
Another concern about bamboo boards is the way manufacturers treat bamboo boards. Some use formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing chemical, and trace amounts can stick to the surface of the board. When you place food on it, formaldehyde may leech into the food you're cutting. Look for a board that doesn't use harmful chemicals or one made based on organic standards.
Keep These Points in Mind When Using a Cutting Board
- Never cut vegetables and raw meat on the same board or use the same utensil. Meat has a high likelihood of harboring bacteria that cause food poisoning until you cook it. Use a separate board and separate knives for each.
- Always dry cutting boards thoroughly with a clean, cotton towel before storing them. If moisture remains on the board, it can promote the growth of bacteria and serve as a breeding ground for pathogens that cause food poisoning.
- Check cutting boards each time you use them for signs of scratches or wear. If you see any, it's time to get a new one.
- Don't cut your hand. That goes without saying.
USDA United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. "Cutting Boards and Food Safety"
NC State University. "Fast Facts About Cutting Boards and Food Safety in Your Kitchen"