Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chop Chop - Cutting Boards Safety

Wood or plastic, that is the question. Which is best? Which is safest? There doesn’t seem to be a lot of agreement here. But, with my recent brush with E Coli 0157 (my daughter was very ill, apparently picking this nasty bug up at a local food market) I’ve been doing a lot of reading about food safety and, of course, cutting boards are an issue.

I was unable to get definitive answers on which is safest, so I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to be careful about cross contamination and to clean, clean, clean.

Which do I use? Wood. I like wood. I prefer the way it feels when I’m chopping vegetables. I feel like I have better control of my knife using wood. Plastic seems too slippery to me. Also, when you use good German blades like I do, you want to be good to your knives. Wood is the best surface for your knives. Wood is soft enough not to damage the cutting edge of your knife. If you’re a major germaphobe and you just can’t bring yourself to use wood, use plastic. It’s the next best thing for knives. Don’t use glass or marble. Those surfaces are just too hard for knives and will quickly dull them.

So, back to the bacteria. Who says what? The FDA has recommended plastic over wood for many years. They say plastic is easier to clean, and can be put in a dishwasher and sanitized. Good point, but..... Now we’re hearing that plastic may not be all that much easier to clean. When plastic gets beat up from the use of knives over time, the bacteria can live down in the little nooks and crannies and it thrives there. It turns out that studies have shown that wood is more resistant to bacteria build up. Check out this site for information on these studies: For an opposing view point check out the Agriculture Research Service of the USDA at this site:

So what to do? Keep your cutting surface clean and safe. Use hot water and soap to clean after every chopping session. Don’t submerge your wood cutting boards in water, as this will damage the board. Use full strength white distilled vinegar to disinfect your cutting surfaces. The acetic acid is effective against E Coli, Salmonella and Staphylococcus. Use Hydrogen Peroxide. First wipe down the cutting surface with a paper towel and white vinegar, than use another towel to wipe it down with hydrogen peroxide. And there is always trusty old chlorine bleach. I know a lot of people don’t like to use it, but the fact of the matter is, it kills bad bugs. Flood the surface of your cutting area with a diluted bleach solution (1 tsp per quart of water) and let stand for several minutes. Rinse and pat dry.

Always keep your cutting boards dry. Water breeds bacteria. After washing, pat dry and set upright so no water sits on the board. Avoid cross contamination by using a different board for cutting raw meats then the one you use for chopping vegetables. And keep in mind that you can run some wood cutting boards through a dishwasher. You just need to keep the board treated with a mineral oil to extend the life of your cutting board. And when your board starts to get beat up and old, replace it. All those cracks, nooks and crannies are breeding grounds for some nasty bacteria.

So with that, happy chopping and safe eating!

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