Back when I worked catering, we were required by the health department to use plastic cutting boards because “they were more sanitary”. Like so many well-intentioned government agencies, they were wrong. This post explains why I only use wood cutting boards in my kitchen.
Why Wood Cutting Boards are Better than Plastic or Glass
As I mentioned above, we were required to use plastic cutting boards when catering. In Plastic and Wooden Cutting Boards by Dean O. Cliver, Ph.D of UC Davis, they noted that “the U.S. Department of Agriculture told us they had no scientific evidence to support their recommendation that plastic, rather than wooden cutting boards”.
The problem is that while it may seem like plastic is non-porous and can’t absorb liquids, with use the surface becomes knife-scarred. This rough surface is exceptionally difficult to clean, even with bleach or running through the dishwasher. Wood, by contrast, shows the ability to halt the growth of and kill bacteria applied to its surface. Both new and used wooden cutting boards maintain this ability equally well.
In a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin (also by Dr. Cliver), they tested bacteria known to produce food poisoning – Salmonella, Listeria and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli. These bacteria were placed on cutting boards made from seven different species of trees and four types of plastic. All the wooden boards consistently outperformed the plastic.
The scientists found that three minutes after contaminating a board that 99.9 percent of the bacteria on wooden boards had died, while none of the bacteria died on plastic. Bacterial numbers actually increased on plastic cutting boards held overnight at room temperature, but the scientists could not recover any bacteria from wooden boards treated the same way.
Dr. Cliver also discusses a case-control study of sporadic salmonellosis in Plastic and Wooden Cutting Boards:
(This study) revealed that those using wooden cutting boards in their home kitchens were less than half as likely as average to contract salmonellosis (odds ratio 0.42, 95% confidence interval 0.22-0.81), those using synthetic (plastic or glass) cutting boards were about twice as likely as average to contract salmonellosis (O.R. 1.99, C.I. 1.03-3.85); and the effect of cleaning the board regularly after preparing meat on it was not statistically significant (O.R. 1.20, C.I. 0.54-2.68).
Basically, wood cutting boards kill bacteria. They can’t figure out exactly how, but they know that it’s true. Old or new, wood cutting boards add an extra line of defense to your kitchen. Bamboo may have similar properties, but the only test data I was able to find about antimicrobial properties of bamboo focused on bamboo cloth. Read Bamboo – is it Antimicrobial?
- Wood cutting boards protect your knives and don’t dull them like ceramic or glass cutting boards.
- Wood is completely biodegradable and renewable.
- Wood cutting boards may support small business. Check out your local farmers markets and craft fairs for handmade products.