On Cutting Boards – Plastic vs. Wood? You May Be Surprised

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Maple Top Work Table

A wood cutting surface, NSF approved for commercial restaurant use

Wood Vs. Plastic Cutting Boards

Food Safety

Various styles of cutting boards and butcher blocks are used judiciously in kitchens and restaurants everywhere.  Avoiding contamination by using separate cutting boards for various food types, washing boards with hot soap and water between cutting jobs, and using the right board type are basic concepts in every kitchen.  There seems to be some debate, however, over what type of board material is best.  Many people believe that wood is unsafe, and plastic is more sanitary.  But why then, would butcher blocks and wood cutting surfaces be used in restaurants and commercial kitchens everywhere?  And why would wood surfaces be approved by NSF and health departments if they are unsafe?  It turns out, when it comes to preventing growth of bacteria, wood is superior to plastic cutting surfaces.

A somewhat recent study at UC Davis was surprised to find out about wood’s superiority after they set out to design a way to disinfect wood so it would be as safe as plastic.  They soon determined that on wood surfaces, bacteria such as Salmonella quickly disappeared from the cutting board surfaces, even surfaces that had many knife cuts.  Plastic, however, especially plastic with grooves from knife use, tended to harbor the bacteria over time.  It seems that on wood surfaces, the bacteria are kept away from the cutting surface because they are absorbed by the wood, where they eventually die.  Plastic allows any bacteria to live for some time on the surface, and knife cuts in plastic can harbor the bacteria for some time.  Check out the study here:

http://faculty.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/faculty/docliver/Research/cuttingboard.htm

That doesn’t mean plastic does not have it’s place – it does somewhat dispel, however, the common household belief that plastic boards should be used for meat and fish rather than wooden boards.  And, of course, proper washing and taking steps to avoid cross contamination should be practiced with any board surface.

Other Wood Benefits

Wood boards and butcher blocks can last a lifetime.  The cutting surface of a wood board can be maintained and treated with products such as John Boos Mystery Oil to keep the block looking like new and prevent drying & cracking. If needed, a thick board can also be sanded down to remove knife scars and other flaws. A thick board, if taken care of, can last decades, if not a century or more.

Wood cutting surfaces are better for your cutlery.  If you’ve invested in some nice kitchen cutlery, you’ll want to maintain the blades.  Often, dulling of knives is actually caused by the blade folding, ever so slightly at the knife edge due to impact while chopping.  The surface of wooden cutting boards is less inclined to cause this knife damage than hard plastics and other materials.

Wood boards and blocks are attractive.  A good block or board looks good and adds character to a kitchen.  In addition to cutting boards, check out our selection of maple top tables and butcher block tables for some beautiful and functional blocks.

Wood Board Types

End Grain Board

End Grain Cutting Board

End Grain boards are the constructed by binding the wood sections vertically so that the “end” of the cut pieces make up the cutting surface.  This results in a board that is superior in its ability to resist and hide knife cuts as well as being attractive.  Because the grain is on-end, it allows knives to penetrate somewhat, making it a more forgiving surface that is easier on your cutlery.  Your knives will stay sharp longer with this type of board.

Boos Edge Grain Cutting Board

Edge Grain Cutting Board

Edge Grain boards use the long-end of the block pieces to make the cutting surface.  This results in an attractive and sanitary board as well, while being easier to manufacture and therefore somewhat more economical.  An edge-grain board, however, will dull knives somewhat more quickly than an end-grain surface, and it will show more knife marks over time.  Don’t worry, that doesn’t stop chefs and professionals like Rachael Ray from using them.  Edge-grain cutting boards and blocks are practical, high in quality, and perfectly suitable for any kitchen – commercial or residential.

Rick@AKitchen

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