When people think of food and eating, they think of health and nourishment, not contamination and sickness.
That’s why it’s important for you as a cook, food preparer or anyone else to handle food in as safe a way as possible. In the world of prep, this means using sanitary and clean items and tools in the kitchen – especially your cutting board.
Today, we’ll look more into how to be as safe as possible when using a cutting board and preparing a meal.
Plastic or Wood?
For hundreds of years, the de facto material for cutting boards was wood simply because there were few other options. Glass and marble were impractically expensive to use for such a quotidian item, and processed plastics were not yet on the scene.
When plastic boards did make their entry, however, many thought that they would be the new standard for cutting board safety. After all, wood as a material was naturally porous and introduced the risk of bacteria taking residence in grooves, knife marks and other blemishes that appear on a cutting board over time.
This was the conception, however, until a seminal study came out of UC Davis in the late 1980s. An analysis done by Dean Cliver showed that plastic cutting boards may not necessarily be safer than wooden boards. Plastic boards were easier to clean (especially since you can put it in the dishwasher), but the grooves and knife cuts in plastic boards were more conducive to bacteria growth than in wooden boards. In the meantime, the capillary action in wood – especially fine-grained hardwoods like maple, walnut – pull down and trap the bacteria, where it dies as the board dries out post-cleaning.
Still, plastic cutting boards are a great option for chopping and preparing foods where there isn’t a lot of risk. Vegetables and herbs, for example, are perfectly suited for plastic boards, while meats, for example, are best reserved for a wooden carving board.
Avoiding Cross Contamination
The idea of using different types of boards for different ingredients brings up another interesting and small idea for improving overall food safety: avoiding cross contamination.
When dealing with multiple ingredient types – bread, fruits, raw meats, produce – its best either to use separate cutting boards altogether or to clean the same board between each use. This way, you’re able to ensure that the bacteria from one type of food doesn’t cross contaminate other food. This is particularly true when you’ve got raw foods (meats especially) in close proximity to cooked and ready-to-eat food.
One of the biggest opportunities for bacteria to develop and flourish on a cutting board is the time in between use and cleaning. Especially on older cutting boards with plenty of grooves and knife marks, giving bacteria the time to spread across the board and into these pockets make them difficult to remove later on.
Generally, if you can spare the extra few minutes, it’s safest if you can rinse and clean your cutting board with warm, soapy water immediately after use. Plastic boards can be put in the dishwasher, but you need to be mindful that the dishwasher should be ready to run soon thereafter. Otherwise, the warm environment created inside the chamber can help bacteria that have already “established” themselves spread and flourish.
Replace Old Boards
Alas, all good things must eventually come to an end. Even if your cutting board has been a faithful companion through many a meal, at some point it’s in your best interest to replace it with a new one.
You’ll know it’s time when your board smells funny and, even after a deep cleaning, the smell and stains from deep knife marks don’t seem to go away. Once you notice that, you need to be mindful of the risk that comes with having bacteria in close contact with your food.
Food contamination is no joke, and the risks are most prevalent in your cutting board and other tools you’d use for food prep daily. Thankfully, the measure needed to stay safe, so it’s easy to steer clear of food illnesses without too much disruption to your daily routine.
Stay safe, and bon appetit!