Choosing the right cutting board, knowing how to clean it properly so it will last, may keep you safe from a nasty bout of food poisoning.
You need at least two boards, one for fruits, vegetables, bread and anything that is safe to be eaten raw. You would expect someone selling cutting boards to say you need at least 2 of them right? The real reason is we care about your health. The second board is specifically (and solely) for cutting raw meats, poultry and fish. Cutting boards, because they can come in contact with a variety of foods during a single meal’s preparation, have to be kept clean to avoid transferring bacteria from one food item to the next. That’s why you need one board that is just for meats, fish, and poultry. Cutting a head of lettuce on the same board used to cut up chicken breasts is just playing Russian roulette with your gastrointestinal tract. You might as well lick the raw chicken. It will catch up to you sooner or later. Cross contamination is not pretty. Get two cutting boards. And wash your hands!
Cutting Board 101
Cutting boards come in three major categories: wood, plastic, and hard rubber. Wooden cutting boards should be made from hard, tight-grained woods like hard rock maple, walnut, or bamboo. With wooden cutting boards, you have two basic choices, end grain or edge grain. End-grain boards look like checkerboards. The vertical grain makes for a surface that is extremely durable and is easier on your knives than edge-grain or plastic boards. End-grain boards are usually much thicker and significantly more expensive than other types of cutting boards.
Edge-grain boards are made by placing planks of wood on edge and gluing them together under pressure. You can tell an edge-grain board by the stripes. Edge-grain boards cost significantly less and are a lot easier to store and move around the kitchen. Neither type of wood board should ever go through the dishwasher.
Wood selection has always been the most important part of selecting a good cutting board. Classical cutting boards have normally been made of out dense woods, such as maple, walnut or cherry vs porous woods such as red oak. Having a dense wood is important, as it keeps out water, which is where bacteria grow and live. Even with high quality wood however, cutting boards usually require regular maintenance with mineral oil or beeswax to keep the wood from cracking and warping.
Plastic cutting boards are inexpensive, dishwasher safe, and come in colors. Professional kitchens use color-coded boards to prevent cross contamination. This is a great way to avoid cross contamination of foods and is a major plus for the plastic boards. On the other hand, plastic or poly boards can be hard on knife edges. There are also issues with plastic boards harboring bacteria as they get older.
Hard rubber boards are common in restaurant kitchens. They are sold primarily by restaurant supply companies and their industrial beige color has all of the charm of a bowling shoe. They are heavy and don’t slide around on the countertop, they are as comfortable to cut on as wood, and they are dishwasher-safe.
Wood vs. Plastic
New plastic boards are easy to clean and sanitize. Bacteria doesn’t readily penetrate the surface and can be washed away easily. The problem comes when the cutting board becomes scarred (which happens much more quickly than with wood boards). The cuts provide a safe harbor for bacteria. A plastic or poly board can go through the dishwasher, which is forbidden for wood cutting boards, but that is less effective as the plastic cutting board becomes more scuffed and scarred. When a plastic board becomes scraggly enough to snag your dishcloth when you wash it, throw it out. In short, replace your plastic cutting boards every couple of years or buy a good wooden cutting board and keep it clean and dry.
Cleaning Your Cutting Board
The type of cutting board you use is far less important than knowing how to clean it. It’s not recommended to put a wood cutting board in the dishwasher due to the extreme heat. Only thicker, plastic cutting boards are considered safe for dishwashers since they generally won’t crack or warp. You should wash your wood cutting by hand in hot soapy water and rinse it before any other dishes or after washing everything else. When you are done, rinse the cutting board thoroughly and let it air dry. That’s it. No magic formulas or harsh chemicals.
Plastic and hard rubber cutting boards can be washed in the dishwasher, which is fairly effective for cleaning and sanitizing them. Whether you use the dishwasher or hand wash, stand the board on end and let it dry. Let your cutting boards dry completely before stacking or putting them away in cabinets or you’ll just trap moisture and bacteria. Cutting boards are a critical part of your kitchen. Buy two good boards and keep them clean.
Maple vs. Bamboo
Maple is a native tree species that can be used to create a hard work surface in the kitchen, and is a reliable and renewable resource. Hard Rock Maple, also known as Sugar Maple, is found in abundance throughout the upper Midwest and Canada. Because of its solid nature, Hard Maple is used for a variety of popular products including baseball bats, flooring, rolling pins and of course, butcher blocks and cutting boards. It’s no coincidence that this harder wood species is referred to as “Sugar Maple”. It is the very same tree cultivated and preserved for the production of maple syrup. It has long been valued for it’s resistance to shock and damage, and is an attractive wood for furniture making.
Careful forest management in the last few decades has improved supply and sustainability and as a result maple has become more affordable. Maple is more affordable than other species like walnut and pecan because their regional growth patterns are more abundant around the United States. They are also less susceptible to pests, because they grow in colder climates, and this also reduces cost on the market. The environmental impact of a locally harvested and manufactured tree product is low compared to outsourced materials. Light in color and full of subtle grain marks, maple makes an excellent complement to most workspaces. Cleaned and cared for properly, maple is an excellent and safe option for food preparation.
Bamboo has become one of the most popular materials for cutting boards because they are almost maintenance free due to the hard density of the wood. The dense nature of bamboo makes it less susceptible to knife scarring and it naturally resists water penetration. Bamboo also resists staining, which is often an issue with meats and acidic plants such as tomatoes. A naturally light wood with a fine grain, many chefs love the natural look of bamboo and the modern elegance that it conveys. Many designer kitchens now sport large bamboo cutting boards as they add a chic and tasteful look to a stylish kitchen.
Bamboo is technically a grass instead of tree, one of the fastest growing plants on earth, and a highly renewable resource. A normal bamboo shoot can become fully mature within three to six years before it is cut for harvest. Bamboo is very tolerant to it’s environment, is easily grown and often raised organically due to the ease of farming. Its quick growth enables bamboo to be economically harvested, which is why many builders and homeowners switched to using bamboo due to its great durability and affordability.