Wood Or Plastic Cutting Boards – Which is Best?

Many of us are seriously concerned about controlling the spread of bacteria in our kitchens. This is only good sense when you know that 5000 people a year die of food poisoning, and that one single cell of E. coli can divide into 68 billion new E. coli cells in a measly 12 hours. When you are up against something that tenacious, prevention is everything.

With prevention in mind, there has been a debate about whether to use plastic or wooden cutting boards going on for some time. Sometimes it gets pretty intense. While this article is severely the last word on the issue, there have been some interesting studies done in the last decade. Many of them point to wood as being the better material. Here are summaries of those studies.

Some History

Historically, the FDA and the USDA recommended using plastic cutting boards instead of wooden ones. At the moment, they say its OK to use both, suggesting we use one cutting board for meats, poultry and seafood and another for vegetables and exports.

The primary argument for plastic cutting boards is that they are a non-porous surface. There are two important points about this. The first is that every time you run a knife over a plastic board, it does create tiny fractures in the plastic, and those fractures make great homes for bacteria and they are hard to clean out. The second key point is that any heavy-scarred plastic cutting board should be through out anyway.

This leads to one of the traditional arguments for using wooden cutting boards: They are "self-healing", which means that when you run a knife through the wood fibers, they separate as the knife goes through, but then re-expand to fill the space when the knife is gone. Some proponents of plastic boards say this is a weakness – the wood is holding the bacteria inside it. However, bacteria inside the wood never grow and they die fairly quickly, deprived of all the things that need to stay alive.

The Studies

Philip Kass at the University of California did a study in 1992 that showed people who use plastic cutting boards are twice as likely to get salmonella as people who use wooden ones. In 1993 microbiologists Dean Cliver and Nese Ak of ​​the University of Wisconsin did a study where they put 10,000 salmonella, listeria and E. coli bacteria on wood and plastic cutting boards. They waited three minutes and then tested how many bacteria were still alive. The test results shown wooden cutting boards killing 99 percent of bacteria within three minutes of being put on the board. Plastic boards killed no bacteria. They waited another 24 hours and retested. By then the wooden cutting boards had killed all the bacteria and the plastic ones were breeding it.

Later experiments included testing wooden cutting boards from ten different hardwoods and four different kinds of plastic. Again, all the wooden boards killed the bacteria, and all the plastic boards bigger it. Even cleaning the plastic boards by scrubbing them under hot water or running them through a dishwasher did not work to remove all the bacteria hiding in the tiny crevices in the plastic.

Do Not Throw Out Your Plastic Cutting Boards

There is a simple way to clean them, even if they have been exposed to bacteria. Pour a mixture of one tablespoon chlorine bleach in one gallon of water over the board, let it sit for a few minutes, and then rinse it off. The soaking lets the bleach into the crevices, killing the bacteria.

Source by Katie Hoffman
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