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Cutting Boards Plastic or Wood?

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Anyone have facts or an opinion on wood versus plastic cutting boards? I have two plastic boards that have deep cuts in them and they are stained. Is there one type of plastic better than another, or should I just switch back to wood?

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  1. I know people say plastic is better because you can put it in the dishwasher, especially for cutting raw meat, but mine always get deep cuts and need to be replaced frequently because those deep cuts harbor the very bacteria you are trying to avoid. I use wood or bamboo (my current favorite) for everything else except raw meat. I think you may need to use both.

    15 Replies
    1. re: RGC1982

      Are you saying you don't use wood for raw meat? That's when you need it most, according to lots of research, since that's the most potentially dangerous thing you use cutting boards for.

      1. re: PhoebeB

        I've read the research too, but I use an end grain chopping block for everything except raw poultry and meat. I use a plastic cutting board for those. The reason is because I can get it into the dishwasher and I don't use it nearly as often as my wood chopping block. As soon as it develops deep cuts, I just pitch it and buy a new one. They're so cheap (especially at Marshall's etc.) it's not worth worrying about.

        1. re: flourgirl

          I use wood for everything because I don't have a dishwasher. (When my last one died I didn't replace it; put an Elfa 4-basket unit in the space. I use so many things--wood bowls, sterling, antique dishes, vintage utensils, good knives of course--I don't want put in a dishwasher, it was more trouble than it was worth for just two people.)

          It's gotten to be almost funny, this wood vs. plastic debate. About 20 years ago a guest almost fainted the first time she sat having coffee in the kitchen and watching me make a stew. I was cutting a chuck roast into chunks on a big channeled wood board and throwing them into a wood bowl. "How on earth do you sanitize that board and bowl?", she asked in a horrified tone. "You can't put it them in the dishwasher, can you?"

          I (50 years old at the time and still alive & well after cutting meat on wood boards almost twice as long as she'd been alive) looked at her blankly. She lectured me for 10 minutes on the deadly bacteria-breeding properties of wood. I felt about 2" tall, and the next day I bought two of those (new at the time and shockingly expensive) white polypropylene cutting boards. I relegated that gorgeous channeled meat cutting board to my workbench in the basement.

          I hated them; they dulled my knives, they got so slippery with grease that I couldn't keep the onion I was cutting from sliding away from the knife, they were criss-crossed with scars after the first use and the darkened scars looked so ugly I kept them hidden from sight when I wasn't using them.

          But I used them faithfully for almost 5 years until I stumbled on that research from Cliver/Ak, saw that there had never been one shred of evidence that wood was unsafe; in a half-century or so no one had even tried to verify it!

          Millions of wonderful old wood bowls/cutting boards/countertops had been junked and replaced with plastic, thousands of laws passed requiring plastic in restaurants/butcher shops, etc., on a totally baseless ASSUMPTION!

          I wanted to throttle someone, starting with that officious neighbor who'd made my cooking life miserable for five years. I got my old wood board from the basement, stripped/sanded/scrubbed five years of paint and glue off it and brought it back into the kitchen.

          Now I'm the appalled busybody who lectures anyone I see using plastic cutting boards. "O tempora, o mores ..." (or something like that I vaguely remember from Latin class).

          1. re: PhoebeB

            Oh I absolutely agree with you PhoebeB. I LOVE my wood stuff. I have 2 wood bowls I use all the time - one is absolutely enormous that I use for dough and stuff like that. My mom got it for me as a second. It's got one slightly flattened part of the rim - and I couldn't care less. I love that bowl so much! And I have a butcher block mobile island that I adore as well.

            And I'm not 50 but I also remember when everyone was going on and on about how unsafe cutting on wood was. That's actually my point. I think a person should cut on what ever surface works for them personally, keeping in mind issues of cross-contamination and the like. I am careful to cut my raw meat and poultry on a separate surface from my other food and to carefully disinfect those surfaces when I'm done.

            1. re: flourgirl

              Did your mother get that "2nd" from the Holland Bowl Mill in MI, by any chance? I have a huge 17" one from them w/the flattened part of the rim. I've seen many antique bowls w/a flattened area where the bowl turner miscalculated the diam. of his block and ran a bit short of wood.

              I use wood bowls almost exclusively. I like a wood chopping bowl & hand chopper better than any mechanical chopper ever made. I beat batters in wood bowls with my hand mixer, they don't clang & rattle like metal & ceramic bowls, don't abrade my tile countertop.

              Esp. useful are those 1950s-70s deep round handcarved solid teak "salad" bowls--"dug" bowls, they called them, Never pass one up at yard/estate sales. That incomparable old-forest teak is no more--Thai teak forests were closed to harvesting in the 70s and Burma's not long thereafter. All teak bowls from then on have been either pieced/staved or the new accelerated-growth plantation teak that's all sapwood and has none of the beauty or durability of forest teak.

              I have them in 6"/9"/12"/15" diameters. The extra depth keeps flour/confect. sugar from exploding everywhere when you're trying to blend it with something. And the little individual bowls that made up the set are the best soup/stew bowls in the world: never too hot to hold in your hands, keep things hot longer than anything else. Kids love them. (I think they remind them of coconut shells and make them feel like the Swiss Family Robinson.)

              I just rinse and wipe them--almost never use detergent on them, put some mineral oil on maybe once a year (or after I use detergent on one. Wood is much like cast iron in that sense: detergent leeches the surface oil and must be replaced.)

              Some of mine have old paint on the outside. One of my favorites some Depression-era housewife decorated with little handpainted marigolds around the top. If I think one is boring-looking, I paint it a wonderful color. Both alkyd and acrylic paints age perfectly, never flake or bubble.

              The bonus is that they look so beautiful stacked on an overhead shelf just in arm's reach.

              1. re: PhoebeB

                Yes, I think that IS where my mom got the bowl! It's also 17". I really love that bowl. Did I say that already?

                1. re: flourgirl

                  You are fortunate to have a mother with the wisdom and taste to give you gifts like good wood bowls.

        2. re: PhoebeB

          No, I use plastic for raw meat because I can disinfect it in the dishwasher at 180 degrees. You can't put a wood board in that hot water.

          1. re: RGC1982

            Nor do you need to, unless you plan to use the same board for something you're going to eat raw w/in the next three minutes or so before the wood has swallowed up 99% of the bacteria.

            Little stretch there, but I don't know why anyone would rather use a plastic board that will then be out of commission in the dishwasher for an hour or so instead of a wood board they can rinse and wipe down with vinegar and use again immediately.

            1. re: PhoebeB

              Vinegar doesn't kill salmonella or e. coli. Trust me -- you have just been lucky if you haven't gotten sick yet. If you are thinking that waiting 3 minutes and a wipe down of vinegar makes a wood board safe to use for cutting your salad ingredients after cutting raw chicken or beef on it, that is not correct. Nope, plastic is not my preference. But all the microbiology I studied in college supports the theory that you need to keep the raw meats on plastic boards and to simply switch boards for the fruits and veggies. Yeah, it is a little inconvenient -- but so is food poisoning. Been there, done that. No thanks.

              1. re: RGC1982

                Here's what I'm wondering, though:
                What's the difference between keeping separate wooden boards for meat and non-meat and keeping a wooden board for non-meat and a plastic one for meat?

                Presumably just about anything you cut on the meat board is going to be cooked either way...

                1. re: jzerocsk

                  jfood with you jz. jfood has a thick wood for meat since jfood pounds chicken on it as well and plastic for the veggies. works out great.

                  1. re: jzerocsk

                    In my case, the reason I use the plastic for cutting meat and chicken is more of a storage issue. I don't have that much counter space, and I keep my big end grain chopping block on my mobile granite kitchen cart. I store the lighter plastic board on a shelf on the cart which is easier to pull out then a heavy wood board. So since I was already moving around the board I cut meat and chicken on, for me, it made sense to buy one that I could also put into the dishwasher to disinfect it.

                    1. re: flourgirl

                      FWIW, I don't own an end-grain chopping board. I know they're supposed to be easier on knives, more durable, etc., but I find them unnecessarily heavy & awkward to wash.

                      All my boards are just a slab of wood: several 8"-12" round ones for cutting & serving bread/cheese/sandwiches/fruit, a 12" sq. reserved for onion/garlic (which odors are easily removed w/a rub of lemon or baking soda but I don't want to worry about cutting fruit on it by mistake) a 1" thick channelled meat board 14"X20" that hangs on the wall by the range.

                      My serious work area next to the range is always covered with an ancient reversible 1"X14"X34" slab of cherry. ( Every evening I wipe it down w/vinegar and put something under one end to air-dry the underside in case some moisture seeped underneath, and 3-4 times a year I scrub it w/a soft brush on both sides and oil it.)

                      All my boards are old-to-very old, light in weight as wood becomes as it ages, they do not splinter, there's not a crack or gouge in any of them, there are enough of them that a clean dry one is always at hand. The small ones fit like plates into the big hanging plate rack right in front of me, the larger ones either hang immed. to my right or stand on end with the cookie sheets under the counter.

                      I know the details of my personal arrangements are not of compelling interest; my point is that wood boards do not have to be gigantic heavy things; an asst. of smaller ones is far more useful than one or two hard-to-handle ones. The important thing is to always have a clean prep surface available right when you need it.

                      Scout yard sales & flea mkts. for old wood cutting boards. Try to find the ones made of a single piece of wood, though the laminated-strip ones are durable if they were well made and taken care of. Some of these old boards are very beautiful--make a wonderful collection hanging on a wall--and you can hardly have too many of them.

                  2. re: RGC1982

                    As someone mentioned here "wood was used for centuries before plastic was invented" so there HAS to be a method to use wood safely, or our species would have gone extinct from food poisoning. How about the lemon juice/salt cleaning method? Sodium Chlorate was use to kill Salmonella and E. Coli in livestock by the USDA. I don't think many microorganisms can survive salt, but you studied microbiology, you tell us.

            1. wood - only and always. Keeps you knives sharper, resists bacteria, used for centuries before plastic was invented.

              Scrub your wood board with white vinegar and hot water after chopping raw meat - you'll be fine.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jbyoga

                Yes. I rinse the grease off in the sink under hot water with a brush (no detergent), spray them with vinegar, stand them behind the faucet to drip dry, store them either hanging or standing on end.

              2. I have both, but most of the time use wood since it is already out. When I'm doing meat, I like to put out one of those paper/plastic disposable cutting sheets made by Saran Wrap, but if I'm out of them, it is no big deal- I just use the wood.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Clarkafella

                  Thanks to all who responded. I will be tossing the Plastic Boards and replacing them with Wood, but I will also take your advice and use the disposable plastic sheet for when I am cutting meat. Makes a lot of sense to me.

                  1. re: Clarkafella

                    When I first started cooking my mom had a little wooden board and a little plastic one. We most often used the plastic one, but I find I can't stand the sound or feel of the knife against that plastic. I don't own a plastic cutting board. My mom still uses that one from time to time.

                    What I have is one of those pull-out cutting boards that I took out of its slot because whatever holds it level when it's pulled out was busted (ever try cutting green onions or carrots on a cutting board with a major downhill slope? I don't recommend it). I put it on the little prep cart I use in the kitchen. I almost never cut meat on it, because (sorry if this is sacrilegious) I cut most of my meat up over the sink with kitchen shears. If I do have to cut it on the board for some reason, I either use one of those Saran sheets if I have any, or just wash it good with soap afterward. No one has ever died or even gotten sick from eating in my kitchen.

                  2. I use wood but keep a couple of plastic on hand for things that stain badly like beets. I minced a bunch of flat leaf parsley recently that left the plastic board bright green. Into the DW. Out it came clean as a whistle. Just lazy but it would have left my wooden board stained.

                    1. Raise your hand if you've ever become sick from cross-contamination because of a cutting board that was contaminated.... didn't think so. If you did raise your hand, you were in the presence of a VERY bad cook and a HORRIBLE disgusting slob. I'm not saying throw raw, rotting chicken on a board and then serve cheese and veggies off of it, just use common sense! There's no need to throw out a perfectly good cutting board just because a few people on a message board said one thing or another. Again, use common sense people! Wash your boards, wash your knives, wash your hands. It's that simple.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: HaagenDazs

                        I like wood, but our boards are heavy. Actual studies have shown that they collect less bacteria than plastic. Having said that, there's plastic… and then there's plastic. For a while we used cheap, thin sheets from (I think) one of those mega bathware places. Very flimsy, retained odor, cut-marks, etc. Then, we got some silicone cutting mats from IKEA. They have none of the aforementioned drawbacks of the flimsy plastic mats, are easy to clean, *and* you can scoop stuff right into the pot. Folks, HaagenDazs is absolutely right. Normal, common-sense hygene takes care of most anything. Just wash things in hot soapy water and rest easy.

                        1. re: HaagenDazs

                          HaagenDazs, your first sentence is precisely the question nobody seems to have asked in the 30s/40s when the burgeoning plastics industry informed us that our wood chopping blocks/cutting boards/countertops/bowls were poisoning us and must be replaced (with its products, naturally).

                          We swallowed it whole. The dictum that wood was unsafe went apparently unchallenged until 1991 (I think it was) when two scientists (who themselves had swallowed it whole and were only, in their words, "trying to find a way to make wood surfaces as food safe as plastic") observed something so unexpected--so utterly impossible, in fact--that they repeated/repeated/repeated the tests, expanded it to include woods of all types/ages/degrees of use & wear. The research continues but their findings have yet to be convincingly falsified.

                          I think it's safe to say that seldom in the history of science have researchers themselves been so surprised by what they discovered. But the reactions to their discovery aren't surprising in the least, and--as I said before--have reached an almost comic level.

                          The poor gullibles like me (who in the early 40s watched my daddy tear out the most perfectly beautiful maple countertops in our ca.1920 Dallas home and replace them with red Formica) and all the little restaurant/diner owners/grocery stores/butcher shops who've been forced by law to spend untold millions conforming to what are now looking like worse-than-useless regulations, are FURIOUS. People (like me) who can remember the countless food-related wood products mfrs. (the great Munising company comes to mind) who were forced out of business in the 40s-50s by the anti-wood hysteria, are mad enough to cry.

                          And of course the people who make and sell all the plastic/metal stuff that's supposed to be more hygienic than wood--supported by all the government agencies that have forced these products on an unsuspecting public for ~70 years, are vigorously contesting the Cliver/Aks, et.al., findings with "findings" supporting their own position.

                          So good luck to anyone who wants to spend a few hours studying all the claims & counterclaims. At some point your eyes will cross and you'll throw up your hands and decide to worry about it tomorrow.

                          But I think anyone who reads the literature without prejudice will have to conclude that there is SOMETHING about natural unfinished wood that makes it a quasi-miraculous barrier against bacterial contamination, and that only with wood are we reasonably safe just following HaagenDazs's simple common sense sanitary precautions.

                          Without that extra layer of protection that wood supplies--that emergency parachute/training wheels/cushion/wiggle-room/safety net/whatever you want to call it, an impressive body of research suggests that RGC1982 and virtually all city/county/state/federal sanitary codes are right: for the same degree of safety with non-wood surfaces, one should wash with bleach anything that can't be put in a microwave or dishwasher.

                        2. jfood has a wood raw-meat only and two plastics for veggies. the wood give a nice sense of sturdiness when he pounds and immediately after use it is washed with hot water, soap, dried and placed back in the cabinet. in addition jfood has two sizes of plastics, a large when a large salad or prep work for dinner and a small for cutting the after dinner fruit snack. works out great.

                          1. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Epicurean cutting boards. I bought a couple of them about a year ago and I rarely reach for either my wood or plastic ones any more. They don't get scarred like plastic, can go in the dishwasher to sanitize them, and they look great. Our small one doubles as a cheese tray.

                            1. I have used both and currently use a plastic board( I have had mine a couple of years, and no stains, or deep cuts in the surface. I bought mine at a restaurant supply store. .

                              I have never gotten "sick" from either type of cutting board , but then again I know about kitchen sanitation, and cleanliness. When I cooked in a restaurant almost all of our cutting boards were the white plastic variety, except for the carving stations.

                              I feel the plastic boards last longer.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: swsidejim

                                Plastic boards last longer? Got any that are 50 years old? Come back in a hundred years or so...
                                There are antique butcher blocks that from the 1700s and older still going strong. The age only contributes to their value if you can find them.

                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  butcher block vs a cutting board, there is a difference. In my experience I have had wood cutting boards warp, and crack.

                                  You wouldnt find me using a butcher block from the 1700's in my kitchen.

                              2. The biggest reason not to use wood cutting boards is because of separation of the glued pieces. Yes, studies showed wood cutting boards had less bacteria on them than plastic boards. However, if you read in-depth into those studies, you'll find that the reason was because disinfectants usually need some time, on the order of 30 seconds to one minute, to work well. The porosity of the wood allowed it to stay damp while the disinfectant did its work, unlike the plastic boards which dried faster.

                                The problem with good wood cutting boards is their expense and method of manufacture. If any of the glue joints in your wood cutting board start to separate, it needs to be replaced. The thing is... most people don't. And it's those gaps between the boards that harbor bacteria that gives wood cutting boards their bad name.

                                Many laws are based around health inspections turning up instances of cracked or split wooden cutting boards that should have been replaced, but weren't. Plastic boards don't suffer that particular issue. Even though wood boards show superior antibacterial properties when used with a disinfectant, the amount of bacteria remaining on a plastic board was negligible.

                                In a nutshell, the laws are a benefit, as they protect you from people trying to save a buck and not replacing their cutting board.

                                Beyond that, plastic is easier to clean, wood is easier on knives. Your choice shouldn't have anything to do with bacteria.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: ThreeGigs

                                  ThreeGigs, what is your source for the "disinfectant" studies? The only research I'm familiar with is re: the inherent bacteria-killing properties of un-disinfected wood.

                                  1. re: ThreeGigs

                                    3G, are you making this up? What laws are you referring to? I've checked the Pennsylvania laws and they require resurfacing of *any* cutting surface that has deep grooves
                                    but accept hard maple as an approved surface

                                    California regulations are essentially silent on the subject:

                                    One thing about a glued edge joint, when it fails it tends to fail completely. And the user ends up with two smaller cutting boards where they used to have one.

                                    I do agree with your final point. Be clean, sensible, and happy.

                                    1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                      I used to work with a company that partnered with ServSafe, and did HACCP studies for corporate restaurants. Worked with ChiChi's and Perkins to name two you'd probably know in PA. I'm going by memory on the wood versus plastic studies, so I don't recall the source of the report, but University of Pennsylvania is a likely place to check. UPenn and a few other universities were a constant source of culinary safety studies. I do remember some of the cutting board specifics though, because they went against my "common sense". Like letting a surface stay wet for a minute to disinfect it better. That's assuming a mild disinfectant, like a capful of bleach in a quart of water, typical of what's used in a wipedown in restaurants.

                                      Also, there was never a state law that I was aware of prohibiting wood cutting boards in commercial settings, although I do recall a few local ones. One of two failure modes on larger wooden cutting surfaces (like a typical 12x72 deli board) was warping or shrinking of the board, causing a split at the glue line. Not always obvious, either. Pressure on the board would 'squeeze' contaminants into and out of the splits, and allow a sufficient space for a thriving bacteria colony. Larger, corporate style kitchens weren't the root of those laws from what I understood, it was the mom and pop delis and diners, where owners were loathe to spend money to replace cutting surfaces. Planing the tops to remove gouges did nothing to correct the gaps, and it was a tough thing to spot. Some municipalities were concerned enough I assume to enact local laws requiring solid boards.

                                      Chuckles, you're right about most consumer cutting boards failing by splitting completely. But not always. Case in point:


                                      That board split less than a year after I got it, been that way ever since. I only use it now for non-food things, place to put hot pots, etc. Bought a plastic board since and haven't worried about it. Takes a little getting used to one, but I actually think it improved my knife skills because you need to be more aware of just how close the knife is to the board, and adjust pressure accordingly if you don't want to dull the knife. I have a little bamboo board too, but I never use the thing.

                                  2. I like wood better than plastic. We have put a FDA approved oil finish that helps repel water and seals the wood after it is sanded smooth. Hard maple is our wood of choice. I have been using the same cutting board for all vegetables including onions and I have no odor problems.

                                    I believe the key is in the finishing process for wood boards.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: paprgypc

                                      The did a test on this recently on Food Detectives and wood won out over plastic. I would recommend burning you plastic cutting boards and smelling up all those lovely fumes!

                                      1. re: paprgypc

                                        Is this topic overcooked or what?

                                        to keep your wooden boards in good shape all you need is a food grade mineral oil. Buy it at the local drug store. No one needs the FDA or any other Fed agency to tell you what is "approved". Sand 'em off, wipe off the sanding residue, make sure they are absolutely dry and wipe them down with several coats (left to dry in between) of mineral oil using a clean rag. To clean between uses, rinse it off imediatley after cutting meat or poultry - don't leave a gooey board laying around. I use two baords, one for meat one for veggies. Then finally clean them with a dilute bleach solution or simply vinegar. What's so hard about this?