If a cutting board is on your wish list or giving list this season, here are some considerations to keep in mind.
Cutting boards are available in various materials. Plastic and acrylic cutting boards are inexpensive and lightweight as well as non-porous. They are a good option for carving raw or cooked meats, poultry or seafood. However, plastic is not as durable as other cutting board materials, and may scar from knife cuts and grooves.
Wooden Cutting Boards
Wooden cutting boards are more durable because certain harder woods like maple, teak and acacia absorb less water and are less prone to damage from knives. Softer woods such as cypress absorb more water and do not cause as much dulling and damage to knives.
Bamboo Cutting Boards
Bamboo is an eco-friendly, durable and affordable option. Bamboo boards are not dishwasher-safe and should be washed by hand in hot, soapy water and be completely dry before storing.
Glass Cutting Boards
Glass cutting boards are durable and easy to clean. However, they offer the hardest surface, which is loud to cut on and causes excessive wear on knives. It may be best to reserve glass cutting boards for serviceware or decorative purposes.
Plastic Cutting Boards
Often the choice for a practical cutting board comes down to wood versus plastic. At one time, plastic cutting boards were promoted over wood because plastic seemed easier to clean and sanitize. However, Dean Cliver, a University of California, Davis researcher, found that plastic may be easier to sanitize, but because it is not as tough as wood, there were many more grooves and scratches in the plastic where bacteria could hide and multiply. Fine-grained hardwoods like maple have a capillary action that pulls fluid down into the wood and traps bacteria. The bacteria are then killed as the board dries after cleaning.
The food-safety aspects around how the board will be used and cleaned are other factors to consider when choosing a cutting board.
Plastic boards can be washed by hand in hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher where the high heat will work as a sanitizer. Wooden cutting boards that are solid wood and not laminated are dishwasher-safe, but those that are coated can warp and crack from the high heat of the dishwasher. In general, a wooden cutting board should be hand-washed in hot, soapy water and air-dried in a location where air can circulate around it.
Wooden cutting boards can be used for cutting raw meats, but it is a best practice to have one cutting board for raw meats, poultry and seafood and another one for ready-to-eat foods like breads and produce. Using separate cutting boards for raw meats, poultry or seafood and ready-to eat foods prevents contaminating ready-to-eat breads or produce with potentially harmful bacteria that may cause a food-borne illness. Be careful not to confuse your food-specific cutting boards. You could buy different colored boards so that it is easier to remember which is for raw meats and which is for ready-to-eat foods.
What to Know Before Using Your Cutting Board for Raw Meats
If used for raw meats, poultry or seafood, a cutting board should be sanitized in addition to washing in hot, soapy water. Use a solution of one tablespoon unscented bleach to 1 gallon of water. Flood the board with the bleach solution and allow to sit for several minutes before rinsing. Air-dry the board before storing.
Treating wooden cutting boards with food-grade mineral oil can reduce splintering and help extend longevity by preventing the board from becoming dry and brittle. The board should be thoroughly clean and dry before applying the food-grade mineral oil. The safest mineral oil to use is one of several brands specifically designed for cutting boards and available at major retailers. Pure mineral oil or “white mineral oil” found in pharmacies is also an affordable food-grade option.
Never use mineral oils that are toxic and not safe for human consumption, such as those that are used as lubricants for machinery or found in auto or hardware stores. Do not treat a wooden cutting board with vegetable oils because they may become rancid and introduce unpleasant tastes and smells to foods prepared on the board.
Eventually, every well-used cutting board will become scarred with grooves and scratches. Then scrubbing and sanitizing will not be enough, and it is time for a replacement.
Elaine S. Smith is a Penn State Extension educator in Blair County.