One cutting board (chopping board) will suffice if you wash it between uses, right? Well no, not really. Cutting boards can harbour dangerous bacteria if you don’t use and clean them correctly. You need at least two cutting boards, possibly more. One will be used for fruits, bread, vegetables and anything else that is safe to eat raw, while the second is only for meat, poultry, fish and seafood. You need to keep them clean so you don’t transfer bacteria from one item to another.
Did you know up to about 80% of chicken for sale might have salmonella? You certainly don’t want to have that in your next chocolate cake or pasta salad recipe. A lot of people forget to wash their hands after handling raw meat and poultry, and some don’t clean the cutting boards properly. This can be a recipe for disaster. About 85% of food poisoning cases occur from food cooked and eaten at home, not restaurant meals!
How to Choose Cutting Boards
You can choose between hard rubber, plastic and wood/bamboo. Don’t cut on glass or granite unless you want to blunt your kitchen knives. There are end-grain wooden cutting boards which look like chessboards and edge-grain ones which are thicker and more expensive. Edge-grain wooden cutting boards are made by gluing strips of wood together under pressure while end-grain ones are made by gluing small blocks of wood together. Never put a wooden cutting board in the dishwasher because the heat and steam can (and will) dissolve the glue.
Hard rubber boards are found in restaurant kitchens but they are great for at-home use too. They don’t slide around on the counter top because they grip well and they are quite heavy. They can be cleaned in the dishwasher safely and they are comfortable to use.
Plastic cutting boards are more common and they can also go in the dishwasher. They are cheap and durable. You can get plastic cutting boards in different colours, so that makes it easy to remember – the blue one for fish, the green one for fruits and vegetables and the red one for meat, or however you wish. Some have little pictures on so you can remember which one to use for which food items. A restaurant kitchen might use rubber boards but they will also have colour-coded boards to avoid cross contamination.
Which Type is Safest?
Although there is a myth floating around that wood cutting boards are naturally antibacterial, that isn’t true. Wood absorbs bacteria rather than killing them. The bacteria will sink into the wood about a millimetre and survive there for a couple of hours. You will wash the board in hot, soapy water after use, then the bacteria will die as the board dries.
Plastic cutting boards are easy to clean and to sanitise because bacteria doesn’t penetrate the top layer like it does on a wooden board. Also, the dishwasher tends to be more thorough than a lot of human dish-washers! When you use a plastic cutting board you will see little knife marks appear in there over time, and yes bacteria can get lodged in there.
That isn’t a problem until the cutting board becomes scarred enough to snag your dishcloth, and then it’s time for another one. So you should either invest in a hard rubber cutting board (these are often only available from professional cookware shops), get a couple of wooden ones and avoid the dishwasher, or get a set of plastic colour-coded ones (our recommendation) and replace them every couple of years.
How to Clean Them Like a Pro
If you are going to wash the boards by hand, wash them in hot, soapy water in the sink before washing any other dishes, to avoid cross-contamination. Alternatively, wash them last, after you’ve done the other dishes. remember to clean the sink too and any knives you used.
Don’t forget the sponges either – they can harbour germs. One good tip is to pour boiling water over the sponge when you’ve finished washing up, to kill any remaining bacteria, and replace the sponges often.
It is advisable to rinse and scrub plastic boards before putting them into the dishwasher for a proper wash and rinse, then let them air-dry before storing them away.