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Cutting Boards: Wood or Plastic?
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Q. What is the general consensus on cutting boards — wooden or plastic? Any suggestions?

A. Consensus? We're talking the food world here, son. There's no consensus, only dissent, argument, and self-righteousness! 

The issue you're referring to has to do with whether potentially harmful bacteria are more likely to take up residence in a wooden cutting board or whether plastic or other man-made materials are likely to be safer.

Many people argue that plastic boards are more sanitary. Indeed, while many chefs prefer hardwood boards, there are communities where wooden boards are not permitted in commercial kitchens. Yet there is some research to show that wooden cutting boards contain enzymes that kill bacteria, while grooves cut into a well-used plastic board can harbor bacteria as long or longer than a wooden board.

In reality, the consensus is that how you handle the cutting board is more important than what it is made of. There are only a couple of rules. The first is not to allow raw foods — especially meat, poultry, and seafood — to contaminate finished foods. In other words, don't prep a chicken on your cutting board and then carve the chicken on it after you take the bird out of the oven. And don't prep the chicken and then use the same board to prepare salad ingredients or a fruit bowl. Indeed, some people use separate boards for specific tasks — one for raw meat, one for fruits & vegetables, and another for cooked foods — and never mix them up.

The second, and overarching rule is to keep your cutting boards clean. Wash them frequently in hot, soapy water. Keeping them clean is the surest protection against contamination, no matter what they're made of.

Now, if you want our opinion (and frankly, who doesn't?), while wood cutting boards are more attractive, traditional, dare we say sensuous, and produce a better thunk when you cut on them, you can put plastic cutting boards in the dishwasher, where we know they get really, really clean, and that earns our vote. An informal poll of the Ochef staff finds their kitchens stocked with four plastic cutting boards for every one wooden board, on average.

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