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What to do with a wooden cutting board of unknown origin?

One of the things thar came with my apartment was a wooden cutting board which is "built-in" to the cabinetry (not really, but it's obviously designed to be there). I've been there for over a year now, and haven't ever used the board because of concerns about what it might have been used for previously (and since I have several other plastic boards I use.) If I wanted to use this board, what would I have to do to ensure that it is safe to use?

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  1. Well what COULD have the cutting board been used for? I mean, unless the previous tenant was...say...Jeffrey Dahmer...or you know. After a year, I think you're safe, no matter what had ever been done on that cutting board.

    1. Using an SOS pad, scrub the heck out of the surface, as if you were actually sanding it. Rinse well.
    2. Saturate the cutting board with plenty of bleach - ordinary househould laundry bleach is fine. Make sure it gets into the cracks all around. Cover with plastic wrap and it sit there for an hour or two. Rinse well.
    3. Let dry overnight, then oil the board with a fresh coating of mineral oil. One or two applications should do it.
    4. Enjoy your cutting board.

    1. Not a problem. My apartment was built in the 30's, and there is a built in sliding cutting board that I believe to be original. This is how I treated it, and have been using it ever since.

      Make the standard, restaurant sanitizing solution: 1T bleach in 1 gallon of warm water. Scrub, wash, AND dry your thing like any other wooden board. Using a clean sponge or towel, wipe the entire exposed surface with the bleach, and allow to air dry overnight; do not wipe it dry, but allow the air to slowly dry it. Done.

      1. I don't ever cut on these things, because they're usually too big to wash easily in the sink and I can't lift them up to carry scraps to the compost can (and lots of other reasons). I do, however, like them as a pull-out temporary shelf to put either a plastic cutting board on, or to put a warmed serving dish on that I'm going to fill from the pan on the stove. Then I pick up the dish and slide the shelf away with my hip.

        1. Wooden cutting boards are far less dangerous than plastic cutting boards. Wood will defend itself from harmful bacteria, whereas plastic will not. Personally peaking I would never use a plastic cutting board, or if I'd be forced to do so I'd put it in the dishwasher after every use. In the 80's, in the UK, butchers were forced by legislation to change their old wooden butcher's blocks to plastic models. Food poisoning rates skyrocketed until the law got changed back again.

          I would not use bleach to disinfect the board, and in no case whatsoever undiluted bleach, but simply take a sander to it and give it a quick sanding. Then clean off with hot water and vinegar. Let dry, oil and you're good to go.

          1. The wood/plastic debate has gone back and forth including allegations of scientific
            misconduct on one side or the other, so it's safe to say the question is still open. That
            said, the technical name for the sliding board you have is a breadboard. Which is all that it
            should be used for, since it's difficult to remove and clean. If it doesn't have weird stains that
            suggest the holiday roast was carved on it, it's perfectly fine. Even if it was, any micro-gremlins
            are long dead.

            I completely disagree with the SOS recommendation unless you want to add scented soap
            and microfragments of rusty steel wool to the mix. If you want to resurface it, go to your
            local hardware store and get a sheet of 110 grit sandpaper. Wrap it around a small block
            of wood and go at the board for a couple of minutes. Wipe it down with some dilute
            bleach (you're mostly doing this for psychological well-being, rather than killing any
            actual cooties, but psychological well-being is important here), than rinse, let dry, and
            hit it with a little mineral oil (which you can buy in the same hardware store you got
            the sandpaper in, sometimes sold for 2x the price as "butcher block oil". Do not use
            other sorts of wood finishing oil which are not *specifically* sold as food grade, most
            of them contain heavy-metal drying agents that you do not want near food; cadmium
            can be a real bummer. In a pinch, walnut oil works. Olive, corn, and other cooking oils
            do not because they do not harden, just stay greasy which is also not what you want.)

            1 Reply
            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

              I too would sand the surface rather than scrub with soap. After sanding, rinse well to remove dust and sanitize w/bleach. Then treat w/mineral oil.

            2. The bleach thing is good for sanitizing, but doesn't leave a bleachy smell hanging around? I'd say just use some good antibacterial dish washing soap and a clean sponge. I recommend using your wood board for veggies, bread, etc., not meats. Get yourself a plastic NSF certified board (andreas, they make plastic boards impregnated with antibacterial stuff now too) and throw it in the dishwasher if you cut up chicken or what have you.

              3 Replies
              1. re: HaagenDazs

                No, bleach eventually (an in hours) chemically breaks down leaving, I think, salt. My memory is a bit rusty though. Too many SOS pads.

                1. re: HPLsauce

                  The decomposition products of Sodium Hypochlorite (the active ingredient of bleach)
                  include Sodium Chloride (table salt), Sodium Chlorate, caustic soda (NaOH, or lye), and water. It will also have the usual contaminants that creep into technical grade chemicals, and its decomposition also gives off oxygen. None of these are terribly bad for you in small
                  quantities but you do want to rinse the board as well as possible.

                  I'd also argue that bleach is *far* better than any antibacterial soap to use if you
                  must use anything. Aside from getting soap all over an unsealed cutting board,
                  the active ingredient in most of those orange "antibacterial" soaps is Triclosan,
                  which is a hospital-strength, broad spectrum antibiotic, the overuse of which is simply
                  causing the evolution of resistant bacteria. Which just makes any problem worse.
                  No idea what the consequences of eating that stuff are, but I'd ask my doctor before
                  I used it on my food.

                2. re: HaagenDazs

                  Check out the Epicurian ones too - it's a good alternative to plastic:

                3. wow... i am impressed. i faced a similar situation and just threw the thing out and asked a carpenter to make me a new one!

                  1. I, too, arrived in my WWII-era apartment (many moons ago) to find a similar cutting board built into the counter. Having the same concerns that anyone would have when confronting a cutting surface of unknown past, I treated it as I do all wooden cutting boards - a handfull of kosher salt rubbed well into the wood with half a lemon. Then I just parked the board in direct sunlight for the afternoon to dry out the lemon/salt mixture and add some extra UV disinfection. Tragically, the board simply gave up about a year later and began shedding splinters into my chopped onions (the thing was 50+ years old).

                    And this is where I get to the important bit. You can buy replacement boards at your local mom-and-pop hardware store for usually under $30. Make sure to seal it with food grade mineral oil the night before you intend to use it the first time.

                    1. Here's a simple idea I've used on many an apartment cutting board in the past: get one of those cheapo malleable cutting boards from your dept store of choice. They are thin plastic of some sort (as thin as a piece of poster board). You can therefore wash it , dry it, and keep it in place on your pull out cutting board for when you need it. The bonus is that when you are transferring your cut up stuff to a bowl etc, you just pick it up and pour it in. No floor spillage.

                      PS - I also use these under my countertop small appliances (KA stand mixer and Barista Espresso machine) so that they slide easily out of the way when I clean the counter. I just cut the thing to the size I want and stick it underneath. Works like a charm.

                      1. After a year, there's nothing left alive on a wood cutting surface. Just chop on it, and keep it clean henceforth.

                        1. Basic question. Is this thing actually a cutting board or a pastry board? I think that most of these built-ins were intended as pastry, not cutting boards, and one should never cut anything on a pastry board if one ever intends to use it for pastry (anyway, I think the choice of wood used in them is not appropriate to knife work). In short, if this is what you have, and if I'm right about all this, your best bet might be to sand it smooth and clean, (and straight and plane, ie perfectly flat) then put it in its slot and take it out only for pastry. Go to the store and get a nice cutting board to use for cutting and chopping. Get yourself a nice bench scraper while you're there and use it to keep your pastry board in good shape.

                          If I'm nutty on this one someone please correct me.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: johnb

                            >>> If I'm nutty on this one someone please correct me.

                            Geez, I completely missed the thought that it is probably a pastry board. I think that is on the spot and a good call.

                            Now on the nutty subject-

                            I would not want to carve the Thanksgiving Turkey or Christmas Ham on one. The shear weight makes them a springboard waiting for the floor to go splat on. ;-)

                            1. re: johnb

                              Not nutty, though not completely correct. They are called BREADboards for
                              a reason: that's where you cut your bread. Using any more downward force
                              than necessary to slice a loaf of bread is going to break it, and using it for
                              anything with more moisture than bread is going to be gross. Sand it, slice
                              your bread on it, and do your chopping on a chopping block elsewhere.

                              1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                Good point. Thanks for the clarification. In this age of sliced bread such sensible explaniations don't jump up at one. Thank goodness more and more real bread is becoming available these days--maybe as a result breadboards will once again come into daily use.

                            2. I had my cabinet maker design a pullout cutting board for my kitchen. I love this thing, and should have had him make me more of them. Mine split where he had originally glued it together, and my husband tried to fix it, only making it bow up on the top. This made it very hard to slide in and out of the slot, so my cabinet maker is making me a new one. It's solid maple, most of the older bread boards are not made of good quality wood and over time split. My wood stayed intact, just the seam started to separate.

                              1. Foodnetwork.com's musings on proper food handling (cutting boards included): http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/ck_co...

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: MrBigTime

                                  I only run my dishwasher every few days or so. As far as sponges are concerned, I 'cook' them in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. The only dishwasher that will be effective is one that has a disinfecting feature which some don't.