GET ON BOARD
What’s better to use to prevent food-borne illness – a wooden or plastic cutting board?
You’ve probably heard this question before, and have probably gotten different answers. You’re not alone – even experts disagree on what’s best. On the one hand, some research suggests that wood is the way to go. And that a wooden board contaminated with Listeria (from raw chicken) transferred fewer bacteria to cooked chicken subsequently placed on the board, compared to a plastic board. It was theorized that the pores in wood trapped and immobilized the bacteria – after which they presumably died. More recently, however a 2011 study in Letters in Applied Microbilogy found that both smooth wooden and plastic boards retained similar levels of bacteria after chicken contaminated with Campylobacter jejuni was placed on them. But if the boards were gouged, the wooden ones ended up more contaminated than the plastic ones, and they transferred more bacteria to cooked chicken subsequently placed on the board. The bottom line: All cutting boards are vulnerable to contamination regardless of the material – and either a wooden or plastic one is okay as long as you keep it very clean and in good condition. To that end… After each use, scrub your cutting board in hot, soapy water, then rinse and allow it to air dry or pat it dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Do not store until it is completely dry. Plastic boards and solid wooden boards are dishwasher-safe, but laminated boards (made from more than one piece of wood) can crack and split. Take note of cleaning instructions that often come with new cutting boards. As an extra safety measure, you can disinfect both wooden and plastic cutting boards with a mild bleach solution (one tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach in about 4 litres of water). Pour the solution over the surface and let it sit for a few minutes; then rinse well and dry. Consider bamboo boards. Bamboo (technically a grass) is less porous than hardwoods, resists knife scratches, and is an environmentally sustainable resource. If your cutting board has cracks, crevices, chips, or grooves where bacteria can hide, it’s time for a new one. Oiling a wooden board regularly (with mineral or walnut oil, for example) helps prevent cracking. Using a clean cloth, rub the oil into the wood, along the grain; use as much oil as the board will absorb, then wipe off any extra. To avoid cross-contamination, reserve one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood, and another for vegetables, fruits, bread, and other ready-to-eat foods that will not be cooked.