Chat Leftovers: Wood vs. Plastic Cutting Boards
Got questions for the Food staff? Your weekly chance to ask them comes up in just a few hours. Join us at 1 today for our Free Range chat. On this week's guest list: Deborah Madison, one of the country's best-known vegetarian cookbook authors. And, as always, there'll be prizes for a couple of lucky chatters.
We'll get to as many questions as we can in the course of the hour, but there are always leftovers. Here's one from last's week's chat.
Would you please point me to some reliable, science-based information on the relative merits of wood vs. acrylic cutting boards? I am interested in both their food safety features and their effect on knife blades. I have heard conflicting information on whether wood boards are actually a food safety peril or a food safety benefit; likewise, I have heard that some acrylic boards can dull knife edges. I’d like to read something factual and informative that will help me evaluate my choices.
You're right about conflicting information. There's a lot of disagreement about which kind of board is safer. But I thought this report from the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management looked reasonable.
The researchers contaminated cutting boards made of wood and plastic, measured the bacteria that were present, then cleaned the boards with different solutions. The results indicate some differences, but the differences aren't as dramatic as you might expect. It turns out that a rinse with water is more effective on wood than on plastic. The most effective cleaning product -- a mix of water and vinegar at a ratio of 4 to 1 -- removed nearly all bacteria from the plastic and wasn't as effective on wood.
That result, by the way, conflicts with a 1993 study at the University of Wisconsin that got a lot of publicity back in the day. It showed wood to be markedly easier to disinfect. But its methodology was later questioned. This HITM study is somewhat more recent.
As to which is easier on your knife, the consensus seems to be that a board made of end-grain wood (cut crosswise, against the grain) will be slower to dull the blade. These are usually boards made by glueing several pieces of wood together. Side-grain boards are a little harder, so they dull the knife more, and because they are usually made of one large piece of wood, they tend to warp when you get them wet.
-- Jane Touzalin
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