Which types of cutting boards are the most sanitary?

The major factors to consider when buying a kitchen cutting board are your stomach, your fingers and your knives. You want a board that you can keep free of bacteria, that won't slip dangerously around the counter as you try to slice food, and that won't destroy your knives.

Experts disagree on whether wood or plastic cutting boards are the most sanitary. Most governmental agencies in the United States recommend plastic, while other experts say scarred, rutted plastic cutting boards can harbor just as much bacteria as wood. In either case, cutting boards need to be cleaned and maintained, and care must be exercised to avoid cross-contamination. For example, you'll need to disinfect a cutting board between chopping raw meat and cutting vegetables for a salad, or have separate cutting boards each task.

Other cutting-board materials include bamboo, composite, plastic and glass. Bamboo cutting boards offer many of the advantages of wood but are more eco-friendly since bamboo is an easily renewable natural resource. Composite or plastic cutting boards are dishwasher-safe, unlike wood and bamboo. Wood, bamboo and plastic are better for your knives than composite boards, and harder boards like glass, metal, stone and ceramic will quickly destroy knives, experts say. Eventually, even the best wood, bamboo, plastic and composite cutting boards will develop too many gouges and should be retired. Consider that when weighing costs. Also, look for a cutting board that is either heavy enough or has counter-hugging qualities so the board will stay reasonably still as you work on it.

Types of Cutting Boards

Wood *Est. $15 to $100
Advantages
  • Easy on knives
  • High-end boards can be refinished
  • Attractive
  • Can be as sanitary as plastic
Disadvantages
  • Prone to nicks, scratches
  • Need to be seasoned periodically
  • Not dishwasher safe
  • Varying quality depending on the wood and construction
Wood cutting boards look elegant, and most experts say that wooden boards, despite their reputation, can be just as sanitary as plastic cutting boards. More expensive end-grain cutting boards (also called butcher block boards) are durable and can be sanded and refinished, extending their life.
Bamboo *Est. $10 to $50
Advantages
  • Renewable resource
  • Attractive and durable
  • Natural bacteria-fighting properties
  • Easy on knives
Disadvantages
  • Not dishwasher-safe
  • Periodic seasoning needed
  • Quality varies
  • Cheap bamboo will splinter
Bamboo takes just three to six years to grow, so it is a more eco-friendly resource than trees. Bamboo cutting boards offer many of the same advantages and disadvantages of wood; like wood, quality varies considerably. Price will usually be an indication.
Composite *Est. $20 to $80, depending on thickness
Advantages
  • Dishwasher-safe
  • Durable
  • Easy to clean
  • Attractive
Disadvantages
  • May give off odor when wet
  • Harder on knives than other types
  • Not very eco-friendly
Composite cutting boards are made of fibers bound with glue or resin, sometimes with a wood laminate top. They are easy to clean, dishwasher-safe and more resistant to scratches and gouges than wood or plastic, but they'll eventually wear out as well. Some say they can sound "clackety" or give off an odor when wet.
Plastic *Est. $10 to $20
Advantages
  • Easy to clean
  • Inexpensive
  • Gentle on knives
  • Some are color coded
  • Dishwasher-safe
Disadvantages
  • Wear out quickly
  • Gouges, scratches can harbor bacteria
  • Not as attractive as wood or bamboo
  • Quality varies
  • Not eco-friendly
Although some major studies say wood can be more sanitary than plastic cutting boards, agencies including the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend plastic. But deep gouges can retain bacteria and become hard to disinfect, so you have to use common sense on when to retire them and buy new ones.
Glass *Est. $8 to $80
Advantages
  • Sanitary
  • Durable
  • Attractive
Disadvantages
  • Damages knives
  • Prone to chips, breakage
Experts say that if you care about cutlery, do not subject your knives to hard cutting boards made of glass, stone, ceramics or metal. They are easy to clean, but one credible review says a glass board can dull a good knife after just 10 uses.
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