Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >
Oct 8, 2013 07:49 AM

Cutting board and cross-contamination - Is it a real issue?

So, i am in the process of getting a new cutting board.
I though about going with:

Now i am not sure if i need any extra plastic boards to avoid cross-contamination? Is this really an issue? If i need extra plastic, i might go with:

I would get blue and red color for meat and fish and use the wood for veggies. What do you think?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I use one cutting board for everything - sometimes I even rinse it. But then again, we're healthy from having been exposed to "germs" over the course of a lifetime. Moreover, I know that really fresh fish smells like fish - not the ocean, and that the release of air from the oven when I open it to baste a bird does not wreak havoc upon the cooking process. Kitschy TV aphorisms sometimes are just too simple for me, I guess.

    2 Replies
    1. re: MGZ

      Could not agree more. If I may make a mere assertion (rant), not properly tested, it would be that my single end grain cutting board that I use for everything not only has not given me any illness over the 18 years Ive had it, if anything has made me healthier.

      My work colleagues laugh right back at me with my derisive snorts as they decontaminate their work stations and compulsively wash their hands with anti-septic spray. And they all get sick with every bug that goes round the community and fill themselves with anti-biotics.

      I'm not advocating being stupid, like preparing a salad on your board right after youve chopped raw chicken but this germ paranoia is actually counter-productive.

      Flavour cross contamination is the only excuse for multiple boards and what's wrong with a wiping a board down?

      1. re: jhamiltonwa

        :: Flavour cross contamination is the only excuse for multiple boards ::

        Have to disagree here. Cooks have multiple boards for multiple reasons: being able to prep two things in quick succession without having to take time out to do a thorough cleaning, avoiding bacterial cross-contamination, avoiding flavor crossing, concentrating messy jobs on an easily washed board, and probably others.

        It's perfectly safe to use one board only, with attention to the order in which you prep things and to cleaning and drying. It's not necessarily the most convenient approach.

    2. <Now i am not sure if i need any extra plastic boards to avoid cross-contamination? Is this really an issue? If i need extra plastic>

      It is only a real issue if you cut food which you don't plan to cook (direct consumption) and if you don't wash your cutting boards in between. For example, it is a problem if you cut raw chicken, and then cut lettuce for salad. As such the lettuce will get contaminated by the germs from the raw chicken.

      It is not a problem if the lettuce is to be cooked.

      You can minimize this problem by multiple way.
      1) Get multiple cutting boards as you have said
      2) Wash the cutting board in between the raw chicken and the salad lettuce
      3) Switch the order: Cut the lettuce first, and then cut the raw chicken.

      If you are worry about bacteria from the raw chicken last night getting to the lettuce next morning, then you don't have to worry about that.

      If you are really concern, then there are many ways to disinfect a cutting board. Salt, bleach, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide...even microwave.

      36 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        " As such the lettuce will get contaminated by the germs from the raw chicken."

        If there ARE any germs.

        1. re: c oliver

          A staple of our science fairs is the percent of contamination on the surface of commercial raw chicken; Rates normally exceed 50%. Coupled with a report from a consumer magazine of up to 70% a few years ago, even I who live on a magic boat pay some attention to the order I cut things in.

          But I still only use a single, use to be, white cutting board I was given 30 years ago.

          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

            Thanks. That's a surprising number for me. I have many wood cutting boards and swap them out or turn them over when chopping various things. Mainly cause I don't want meat 'jus' in my salad toppings. And when I wash them it's just plain old soap and water.

            1. re: c oliver

              Raw chicken has salmonella germs even before it's dead. The germs just keep multiplying afterwards, they don't appear out of nowhere.

            2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

              Additionally coupled that the raw chicken based salmonella strain the CDC is currently investigating is resistant to antibiotics.

              1. re: C. Hamster

                and it's a pretty nasty strain -- significantly higher rates of hospitalization, along with resistance to antibiotics.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  The allowable incidence rate of salmonella on raw chicken in the US is 10%, not 50-70%. The reason the USDA considered shutting down the Foster Farms processing plants last week was that their observed incidence rate was almost 27%.

                  And given that the salmonella strains in the Foster Farms outbreak are antibiotic resistant (as C. Hamster pointed out), it's especially regrettable they didn't get shut down. As of Friday the CDC reported 317 salmonella cases, with over 40% requiring hospitalization.

                  1. re: calumin

                    I'm not a scaredy-cat when it comes to foodborne contamination, but this one makes me squirm. Nasty strain, high hospitalization, antibiotic resistant, and yet there's almost no reaction...why?!

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      The FSIS has put the plants under an enhanced inspection regimen and is requiring improvements in processing. What additional reaction do you think is needed?

                      1. re: GH1618

                        GH1618 -- anything doesn't impact revenue at the processing plant is something that the company will continue to just gloss over. the only reason foster farms reacted so strongly this time was that they were three days away from getting shut down.

                        This has been going on at this company for many months, but it has only hit the national media over the past couple weeks. Corrective action should have been enforced a while ago.

                        1. re: GH1618

                          to close the plants until they've eliminated the problem -- the same as happens with any other contamination problem.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            "Any other contamination" doesn't mean anything. Some contaminants are considered "adulterants" and their presence causes more stringent actions to be taken. Salmonella is not in that category. If the FSIS is on-site and has determined that the problem is under control, that's good enough.

                            Consumers should always treat chicken as if is contaminated with pathogens. That's why the FSIS has published a guide to the safe handling of chicken.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              No it's not good enough. The FSIS action (or lack thereof) is not based on their views of science. It's based on the fact that it's too much work for them to shut the plants down.

                              There have been illnesses reported since March. There was another salmonella outbreak last year at Foster Farms, and yet another one earlier this year, and the CDC thinks the illnesses are all linked.

                              This salmonella strain is resistant to antibiotic treatment, and over 42% of victims require hospitalization. There are now over 500 documented cases in the current outbreak across 20 states and Puerto Rico.

                              FSIS knows that this company doesn't operate at sufficient quality control levels but they get pressure from politicians and lobbyists to look the other way.

                              FSIS has not determined that the problem is under control. All they have done is react to a company statement which committed to finally making some process improvements they should have made a long time ago. These improvements have not been made yet.

                              And yet Foster Farms did not recall any meat, and the USDA did not force them to. However, stores like Costco have voluntarily taken the food off their shelves, due to risk of illness to consumers.

                              What is interesting is that there is at least one documented case of someone getting salmonella poisoning from a contaminated Foster Farms chicken that was thoroughly cooked on the rotisserie at Costco. There must have been some other food handling issue which led to some of the bacteria not getting killed.

                              1. re: calumin

                                Here's an article from Food Safety News which contains links to letters from the FSIS documenting what they have done in this case.


                                I don't see how it is too much work for the FSIS to shut down a plant. All they have to do is withdraw their inspectors. The plant operators are the ones who would have to do the work to shut it down and restart it.

                                1. re: GH1618

                                  I agree with the commenters in the link you posted. It's not a stretch to think the government shutdown has something to do with this.

                                  It's not just pulling out inspectors, it's dealing with the fallout from lobbyists, politicians and the media when revenues fall and when the public perceives that our supermarket chicken supply isn't safe.

                                  Isn't it odd that the FSIS didn't even push Foster Farms to do a recall?

                                  1. re: calumin

                                    No, it isn't. The law does not require a recall for salmonella, so the FSIS is sticking to what it can do, which is close a plant (or threaten to).

                                    1. re: GH1618

                                      The FSIS has latitude in what it chooses to do, based on the circumstances. The article which you linked pointed out that there are more illnesses from these two related Foster Farms salmonella outbreaks than the eight Cargill outbreaks cited going back over 10 years -- for which there were numerous recalls.

                                      FSIS has the ability to push for a recall -- esp. given its ability to shut down a plant. The issue is that FSIS has been especially lax on Foster Farms in all of its oversight the past few months.

                                      1. re: calumin

                                        Cargill initiated those recalls. The difference here is between Cargill and Foster Farms, not different treatment by the FSIS. But the Cargill recalls were for tainted ground beef. This is more serious than chicken parts, because ground beef is handled in a way that can spread the contamination more readily, and because some people like undercooked hamburgers.

                                        My reading is that the blame lies entirely on Foster Farms, not on the FSIS. I wonder if the bad press will cost them much business.

                                        1. re: GH1618

                                          My takeaway is that the government thinks that this antibiotic-resistant salmonella-infested chicken is safe to go through the consumer food supply. Even though the number of sick people is higher than all the other ground-beef-based outbreaks you mention.

                                          Maybe this is one more reason to stay away from mass-produced American chicken and source from local, more trustworthy farms. No guarantees, but it's easier to adopt better handling practices when the processing plant is run less like a machine.

                              2. re: GH1618

                                Here's a statement from the director of the California Dept. of Public Health on that point:


                        2. re: calumin

                          Just for fun, I have a print out from Tyson that I saved from about 10 years ago. In recent years, most raw meat from them seems to be shipped frozen then thawed for sale and you can see why. I remember the days of receiving 40 lb cases of it siting on dripping ice, yuck to everything in the warehouse surrounding it.

                          Bacteria levels on chickens:
                          Day 0, 360 bacteria (OK) before it is killed
                          Day 1, 5,800 bacteria (OK) killed, on the truck and arriving overnight at place of sale
                          Day 2, 92,000 bacteria (OK), arrives in your kitchen hopefully
                          Day 3 1,475,000 bacteria (OK); time to cook!
                          Day 4, 23,600,000 bacteria (off odors);
                          Day 5, 377,500,000 bacteria (slimy).

                          Also has these fun facts:
                          Bacteria doubles....
                          every 1/2 hour at 90 degrees (think, sitting on a loading dock)
                          every 1 hour at 70 degrees (sitting on your counter?)
                          every 2 hours at 60 degrees
                          every 3 hours at 50 degrees
                          every 6 hours at 40 degrees
                          every 12 hours at 36 degrees
                          every 20 hours at 32 degrees

                          Then they finish this up with this excellent statement MOVE CHICKEN FAST!

                2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  As always, ck, you give great advice and information! Now can you tell me where I can buy a microwave my size cutting board will fit into, because that solution really works! '-)

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    <where I can buy a microwave my size cutting board will fit into, because that solution really works! '-)>

                    :D A great point. I suppose many cutting boards cannot fit in a microwave, I personally would rank it not as good as the other methods (vinegar, bleach, hydrogen peroxide....etc).

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Actually, unless your cutting board is laminated natural wood (in which case the steam generated by microwaves MIGHT melt the glue) it's arguably the best method on your list! '-)

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        Microwave is good because it can kill the bacteria inside and out. The problem is that if you heat it up too short, then it does not do much. If you heat it up too long, then you can dry out the wood.

                        Otherwise, it is not a bad method.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          There are two things a wood cutting board doesn't like: 1) a long soak in liquid; 2) excessive heat. One potential problem I see with a microwave is the potential to overheat the board (the glue actually) and then have the thing come appart. Most wood cutting boards are held together with a type I glue (ANSI/HVPA). At one time I could tell you the max temperature the glue could take, but, I don't recall exactly what that is now. The potential problem is that you probably can't control the microwave to a specific wood temperature and an enthusiastic application of microwaves could get the board excessively hot.

                          1. re: mikie

                            < I see with a microwave is the potential to overheat the board (the glue actually) >

                            Even without the glue, it can be a problem for dried out the wood too much. However, it is not impossible. It just takes a bit more care to do it. I think.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              I suspect that the safest and most viable way to stabilize/protect a wood cutting board during "sterilization" via microwave would be to wrap the entire board in a damp cloth or paper towels The maximum amount of time required to kill all nasty bugs known to mankind in a home microwave is five minutes. Considering that it takes two minutes in my microwave to boil a single cup of water but takes 8 or 9 minutes to nuke a medium sized baking potato it's obvious that density of material and not volume dictates the cooking time, soooOOOooooooOOOoooo...

                              I suspect that if you wrap a wood cutting board in a damp cloth or paper towel so the cutting board is in full contact with the fabric on all surfaces, then nuke for five minutes, that is not sufficient time to melt the laminating glue in a wooden cutting board. The water in the cloth/paper towel will be producing steam all during the sterilization period, and that will control how much "super heat" can reach the glue(s?) in the interior of the cutting board, ANNNNDDD.... every wooden cutting board I've ever met is manufactured to hold up when a cook puts a big slab of steaming hot brisket on it to slice into serving size pieces... Or whatever boiling hot food that might be placed directly on the board...

                              Yup! I suspect that microwave sterilization is the best way to handle bugs like salmonella and all of the other bad bugs too! If my bamboo cutting board wasn't about the size of a baseball diamond I'd give this a try and report back to you!

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                spritzing with white vinegar or pouring boiling water over the board is a good alternative to sterilizing your board in the microwave.

                                As they say, "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"

                                1. re: scubadoo97

                                  In that case, do as I do and use a weak bleach solution!

                                  1. re: coll

                                    This is starting to read like methods of torturing cutting boards:

                                    Microwave it.
                                    Put acidic on it
                                    Splash boiling water on it
                                    Pour bleach on it.

                                    Have you people had no heart? How can you do this? Are we not all God's creatures?

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      Well, some of Gods creatures are not welcome in my kitchen!

                                      1. re: coll

                                        <some of Gods creatures are not welcome in my kitchen!>

                                        Yes, but you don't have to tolerate them.

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          They are not welcome, and I also don't tolerate them! Zap, you're gone.

                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    You are absolutely right CK. Most raw chicken is contaminated with salmonella. If you cut raw chicken on a wooden board and then immediately use the same board to cut ingredients for a salad which will be eaten raw, you're looking for trouble. Sure you will likely get away with it most of the time and certainly washing the board with soap and water between will minimize the risk, but why take any risk? Get a cheap plastic board and use it solely for poultry. Easy and safe!

                    1. re: josephnl

                      <Sure you will likely get away with it most of the time and certainly washing the board with soap and water between will minimize the risk, but why take any risk?>

                      A very good point. So I guess it is useful to either have two (or more) cutting boards or a two-sided cutting board which we can just flip it over to use the other side.

                      I guess the other possibility (not too hot) is to use a glass cutting board. While a glass cutting board dulls the knife very quickly, it is one of the easiest surface to clean. It is non-porous, unlike wood. It is very difficult to get scratched unlike plastic.

                  3. So what do you think about the boards i posted links to?
                    Also do i need this to take care of the board:

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: bwspot

                      <Also do i need this to take care of the board:>

                      You should get some mineral oil for your cutting board -- just to condition it, and just in case.

                      However, you don't need this particular one. You can just get any pharmacy mineral oil. CVS, Walgreens...etc.



                      1. re: bwspot

                        <So what do you think about the boards i posted links to?>

                        Between those two, the end grain one (first one) is a better. End grain has two benefits over edge grain. First, end grain is slightly gentler to knives. Second, end grain is less likely to warp. However, either one is good. I also suggest you to see if you can get a good deal from HomeGoods and TJMaxx. They often sell these cutting boards at half the price. Just be careful. Look closely to see if the boards have cracks. If not, then they are usually good buys.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          You can go to the bank on Chem.

                          Antimicrobial oils are natural in wood. If you have great concerns (cleaning game or fish) a quick wash with vinegar or nonsmelly bleach is plenty. Or leave it in the sun for a few hours. UV action works better if the ozone hole is in place.

                          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                            Antimicrobial oils are natural in living trees. (They are part of the tree's immune system.) They do not persist in wood that has been cut, dried, treated, oiled, etc. So, they are not in cutting boards.

                            1. re: reptilegrrl

                              that's not what several scientific studies concluded.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                I would love to read said studies. Can you provide links?

                                1. re: reptilegrrl

                                  Here's a summary of some work done at UC Davis comparing wooden to plastic cutting boards. Not exactly what was mentioned, but related.


                                  1. re: reptilegrrl

                                    Here's another similar summary report. Follow the links at the bottom.


                                    1. re: GH1618

                                      thanks, GH -- I've been out of town and couldn't respond.

                          2. re: bwspot

                            I wouldn't want my cutting board oil to impart scents to the board. The oil I use is pure mineral oil with a trace of Vitamin E. I think some have a little beeswax in them. I clean my wooden board with white vinegar and (occasionally) with household hydrogen peroxide.

                          3. My lovely maple end grain butcher block board is just for produce. If I'm working with meat, a plastic dishwasher friendly board comes out of the cabinet.

                            My (awesome) SIL with celiac's has requested that I please use a dishwasher friendly board when cooking for her. As I lover her to bits and don't want to make her ill, no problem. I guess that tells me something.

                            1. One maple board that is used for everything. It's washed after use. No problems over many years cutting chicken and other proteins and washing then cutting vegetables even salad material. Wash with soap and hot water. That's it. There have been times I spritzed with white vinegar after raw chicken but most times just use soap