When it comes to indispensable kitchen objects, the chopping board ranks right up there. It’s key to food preparation, as well as protecting your counter tops and prolonging the lifespan of your knives.
But we often default to using one board for all our food prep needs and fail to clean it properly, leaving ourselves open to bacteria and food contamination.
Most people fall into one of two camps — plastic or wooden chopping boards — and while one isn’t necessarily better than the other, they each come with their unique considerations.
“From a food handling and safety perspective, both Health Canada and the USDA recommend using a plastic chopping board,” says Andrew Gayman, director of the Charles MacPherson Academy.
That’s because a plastic chopping board can be placed in the dishwasher, which ensures it will be entirely cleaned of any residual food debris and disinfected. But a wooden board will be a lot softer on your knives.
“There are a lot of different types of plastic boards, but you want something with a decent amount of thickness. Those thin, flexible plastic sheets aren’t ideal because you’ll eventually cut through them and transfer everything on to the surface of your counter top.”
Gayman says composite wood and bamboo chopping boards are good because they’re nonporous and can be placed in the dishwasher.
“You should never use a glass, slate or marble cutting board because they’ll be really tough on your knives. People probably use them because they wash well, but they’re better suited for displaying things like cheese or charcuterie.”
The proper way to clean a cutting board
As mentioned, nonporous boards like plastic, bamboo or composite wood can go in the dishwasher, although Gayman recommends making sure to rinse them well to get rid of any remaining food and set your dishwasher to the highest temperature setting.
“If you’re hand washing your cutting board, you want to use a kitchen sanitizer to guarantee that you’ve killed all the bacteria,” he says. “Make a solution of one teaspoon of bleach to three cups of water, pour it on the cutting board and let it sit for a few minutes, rinse it off well and let the board air dry.”
Obviously, there are other commercial sanitizers that you could use, but Gayman points out that these include other ingredients that are harder to wash off, so you’re always running the risk of leaving traces of them on your board.
“You never want to put a wooden board [aside from composite or bamboo] in the dishwasher because the excess water and heat could cause splitting or splintering.”
He says if you’re cutting fresh produce, a good scrub in hot, soapy water will do the trick, but if you’re using it for raw meat, clean it with the diluted bleach mixture as you would a plastic board. Most importantly, allow your wooden cutting board to air dry.
“If your wooden board is wet or damp when you put it back in the cupboard, it’ll create an ideal environment for bacteria and other things to grow.”
To get rid of smells and most stains on either a wooden or plastic board, pour one-eighth to one-quarter of a cup of salt on the board and use half a lemon to scrub it; rinse and allow to air dry. While this won’t disinfect your board, it will eliminate any lingering odours from things like onions or garlic.
When to get rid of a cutting board
With a plastic cutting board, it’s very important to replace it when you see that it has gouges in it, as those crevasses will trap bacteria that will be difficult to clean out even if you use a kitchen sanitizer.
“When you start to see divets or discolouration, or the plastic is starting to come apart, that’s when you want to get rid of it.”
The same basic principles apply to a wooden board — the grooves and nicks in the wood will trap bacteria — but one good way to prevent this from happening is to use a food-grade mineral oil to moisturize the wood.
“At one point, it was a living material, so it makes sense that it requires some upkeep,” Gayman says. “Put some mineral oil on the wood and use steel wool to rub it in. Leave it for five minutes then wipe off any excess. But make sure it’s the right oil because olive or vegetable oil will go rancid.”