How safe is your cutting board?

Which is better, wooden or plastic cutting boards? It turns out, there is no easy answer. Consumers may choose either wood or a nonporous surface such as plastic, marble or glass – any of these materials can work. What’s important is how you handle your cutting board!  The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline has some special tips.

Avoid cross contamination. This is a key step to cutting board safety! Consumers may use wood or a nonporous surface for cutting raw meat and poultry, or for raw produce or even cooked meats. However, consider using one cutting board for fresh produce and bread and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. This will prevent bacteria on a cutting board that is used for raw meat, poultry, or seafood from contaminating a food that requires no further cooking.

Clean cutting boards well after each use. To keep all cutting boards clean, wash them with hot, soapy water after each use; then rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels. Nonporous acrylic, plastic, or glass boards and solid wood boards can be washed in a dishwasher (laminated boards may crack and split).

After washing and rinsing, you can sanitize any cutting board to remove remaining germs.  Sanitize with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, regular liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Flood the surface of the cutting board with the bleach solution and allow it to stand for several minutes. Rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels.

What about newer bamboo cutting boards? Bamboo cutting boards are harder and less porous than hardwoods. Bamboo absorbs very little moisture and resists scarring from knives, so they are more resistant to bacteria than other woods. Clean bamboo cutting boards with hot soapy water; sanitize if desired. Rub with mineral oil to help retain moisture.

Perhaps the most important step in caring for your cutting board, other than washing, is to replace them if they wear out. All plastic and wooden cutting boards wear out over time. Once cutting boards become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, they should be discarded.  It is these grooves or knife marks, on any surface, that trap germs and make cutting boards heard to clean.

So how safe is your cutting board? Whether plastic, wood, or other material, any cutting board can be safe if you keep it clean and in good condition. Follow these Hotline tips:

  1. After each use, scrub your cutting board in hot, soapy water, rinse and allow to air dry. Or use the dishwasher!
  2. After washing and rinsing, sanitize wooden and plastic cutting boards with a bleach solution for extra safety (1 tablespoon traditional regular chlorine bleach [6% sodium hypochlorite] per gallon of water or 2 teaspoons concentrated bleach per gallon of water). Pour solution over the surface and let sit for at least one minute; then rinse well and air dry.
  3. Replace any board that has cracks, crevices, chips, or grooves where bacteria can hide.
  4. Designate one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood, and another for vegetables, fruits, breads, and other ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination.

A handout on cutting boards and food safety is available from the USDA.

Stay well and food-safe, Barb