Choosing between cutting-board
For most people, the
major factors in choosing a kitchen cutting board are their personal
safety and the welfare of their cutlery. You want a cutting board that
can be cleaned easily to prevent bacteria growth. You also want a cutting
board that won't slide around the countertop while you attempt to use
sharp instruments. Lastly, you want a cutting board that isn't so hard
that it will destroy your knives.
The choice usually comes
down to wood versus plastic, and the major issue is which is more sanitary.
There is no consensus among experts. Proponents of wood almost always
point to the same expert, Dean O. Cliver, a microbiologist and professor
of food safety at the University of California, Davis. Based
on a series of studies made during the 1990s, Cliver says wood is more
sanitary than plastic because absorbed bacteria remains lodged inside
the wood and dies there. He also says some woods contain bacteria-killing
properties that will reduce surface contamination. But most state and
federal agencies in the United
States, including the Food and Drug Administration
and U.S. Department of Agriculture, disagree. They usually suggest plastic
as the safer choice, though wood advocates correctly point out that
the agencies usually cite no studies as proof. Cliver has no real problem
with plastic cutting boards that are in good condition; he says the
problem with plastic cutting boards is that they eventually develop
knife gouges that are more likely to harbor bacteria than wood boards.
He says older plastic is harder to clean effectively.
We found the most sensible
advice from Cook's Illustrated magazine, which argues that food safety
depends more upon cleaning methods and the condition of the cutting
board (smooth vs. scarred) than on the material itself. Brief but credible
information on Good Housekeeping's website supports this assertion.
If you are skeptical
about the safety of a wood (or plastic) cutting board, no amount of
research and testing is likely to convince you otherwise. Danilo Alfaro, About.com's
guide to culinary arts, for example, mocks Dean Cliver's assertion that
wood cutting boards kill bacteria. But the About.com guide offers no
proof to the contrary, either. And no matter what you believe, you easily
can find an article online to support your viewpoint.
Our research suggests
that the most important factors are:
several cutting boards (or flexible cutting mats) on hand. This
way, you can use several boards while preparing a meal so you won't
risk cross-contamination by chopping salad fixings on the same board
on which you'd just sliced raw meat
your cutting boards vigorously after use
cutting boards that have become severely scarred
Cleaning cutting boards
both credentialed and self-appointed, disagree on cleaning methods.
Obviously, a wood cutting board cannot be cleaned in a dishwasher --
the wood will warp. (Some wood-laminate boards can be washed in a dishwasher,
however.) Many experts say hot, soapy water will do the job on any cutting
board, while others recommend white vinegar or a bleach solution. Cliver,
the University of California professor, says
dishwashers that don't reach at least 140 degrees will just spread bacteria
around rather than kill it. He says the only way to completely clean
a badly scarred plastic board is to soak it in a chlorine solution overnight.
Cook's Illustrated, meanwhile, tested odor-removing solutions and found
that the best strategy for removing smells -- such as a garlic scent
before you slice an apple on the same board -- is to scrub with a paste
made of baking soda and water.
Here are the main points
to consider when buying a cutting board:
- Sanitary needs. Experts disagree about whether
wood or plastic is more sanitary. Plastic and composite boards can
be washed in a dishwasher, while wood and bamboo can't, but experts
say a dishwasher won't be enough if the plastic is deeply scarred.
- Consider the well-being of your
hard surfaces will ruin even the best-made cutlery. Wood, bamboo
and plastic are fine, with composite boards a little less forgiving.
Experts say you should avoid glass, ceramic, stone and metal cutting
- Some cutting boards need upkeep
beyond cleaning. Wood
needs to be seasoned regularly with oils or beeswax. Bamboo needs
to be oiled. Plastic and composite cutting boards do not.
- Durability. Unlike plastic, wood can be sanded
or planed to eliminate gouges. But whether you buy wood, bamboo,
plastic or composite, you'll need to retire them eventually.
- Quality of material. Hardwoods are better than softwoods,
while mature bamboo is stronger than bamboo that's harvested when
young. Polypropylene plastic is better than polyethylene.
- Knife safety. You want a board that is either
heavy enough or has some kind of grip on the bottom to keep it from
slipping on the counter while you work.
- Buy several boards. If you are a chef or you entertain
frequently, it makes sense to have more than one cutting board so you
can avoid cross-contamination as you prepare multiple dishes. Many chefs
use color-coded plastic boards – green for vegetables, yellow for
poultry, red for red meat, etc.
- Environmental considerations. Bamboo is the most eco-friendly
cutting-board material because the grass needs three to six years
to mature, compared with 50 years for maple. And even a wood composite
board will be more green than plastic.
- Don't pay a lot. You are basically purchasing a
disposable item. Unless you are buying a thick slab suitable for
a professional butcher shop that can continually be sanded down and
resurfaced, you are going to have to retire your wood, bamboo, plastic
or composite board once it develops bacteria-harboring crevices.