Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Monday Mission: Examine Your Cutting Board

September 17th, 2012 · 26 Comments · Monday Missions

cutting carrots

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to examine the safety of your current cutting board and replace it with something safer if necessary.

Impact Ratings: healthpositivepositive

Level of Commitment: Making Strides

I don’t know about you, but I spend a LOT of time at my cutting board. You can tell this by the amount of schmutz on the floor where I stand at the end of a day.

It wasn’t long ago that I would have sung the praises of the plastic flexible boards like the one below, because I loved schwooping it over to my pot, bending it slightly, and dumping everything in. It didn’t take long for my boards to start to warp and be so scratched I started to wonder about other, more durable cutting boards.

This post is sponsored by Mighty Nest.

What is Your Cutting Board Made Of?

One more thing you probably never thought you’d have to think about.

plastic cutting board

I remember before I was uber-natural taking great pains to sanitize my cutting boards after tackling raw chicken, but that was as much thought as I put into cutting boards.

I know many of you have already replaced much of your plastic storage containers with glass storage containers, and we talked about safe cookware last week as we launched Safer in September.

But when that knife is hitting the cutting board over and over, even if your food isn’t on it all that long, it’s highly likely that little pieces of cutting board are intermingling with your food (or maybe you have interrupting children like I do, which can cause food to sit waiting on a cutting board for an exorbitant amount of time!).

It’s time to think about those cutting boards.

Most cutting boards are either:

  • Plastic
  • Wood
  • Glass

Are there any made of silicone nowadays? I don’t know, I guess, but if they are, don’t use them. You’re not supposed to cut on silicone or it can expose the fiberglass inside.

I choose a wooden cutting board, possibly bamboo, every time.

Why Not Plastic?

First of all, there are plenty of reasons to avoid plastic anytime you’re going to put food on it, such as BPA and phthalates, both hormone disruptors. Not all plastics have BPA though – here’s a mnemonic to help you remember which numbers are safer.

Secondly, plastic takes a really, really long time to biodegrade. Particularly when you see the flexible plastic cutting boards warping and literally begging to be thrown away within just a few years, it’s clear that plastic cutting boards aren’t made to last. They’re part of our disposable society.

The solid plastic cutting boards tend to discolor and get scratched in my experience, and I’m willing to wager that most people switch them out within 10 years or less as well. (Except my mom – she still has the same ones from my childhood.) Winking smile

When thinking about cutting board safety, bacteria hidey-holes are another issue to consider. All those scratches in the surface make happy homes for bacteria to hide, which can cause problems with cross-contamination. That’s why lots of the boards nowadays come in sets of 4 with different colors for different purposes.

You can see how well that worked for me in that photo above, since I was using yellow (poultry) for vegetables. *cringe* I’m guessing my green veggie cutting board was dirty at the time…

Beth Terry of My Plastic Free Life, also the author of Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Habit and You Can Too, shares in her book:

In a UC Davis study comparing scratched up wooden and plastic cutting boards, the wooden boards were found to be naturally antimicrobial, while plastic cutting boards allowed more bacteria to thrive, even after being washed.

She reminds us that manufacturers of many brands of plastic cutting boards are now adding Microban, the solid surface equivalent of the toxic anti-bacterial chemical triclosan, into their products. It may or may not be labeled, so I say better to stick with the natural surface.

Why Not Glass?

Glass is certainly a long-lasting material and perfect for super-sanitizing the bacteria from raw meat, but there are two reasons I personally just can’t stand glass cutting boards:

  1. They dull knives quicker than I can chop an onion. You’d need this Monday Mission on knives way too often, like in the middle of dinner prep every night, twice.
  2. They are so. loud. it. drives. me. crazy. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

Some knives, I know, are made for glass cutting boards (Cutco, maybe?). If you have those, by all means, glass is a great choice, as far as durability, cleanliness, and material safety.

If you’ve got some glass cutting boards and have been wondering why your knives are always dull, you may need to repurpose your cutting boards.

I have a glass cutting board on my table and one next to my stove – they make fanTABulous trivets! The one next to my stove means that I don’t have to think ahead when I pull a hot dish out of my oven or toaster oven. I think it is one of the more inspired ideas I’ve had in the realm of kitchen organization!

Got Wood?

CSA greens carrot kohlrabi vegetables (1) (500x375)

If you want to feel like a super chef, choose a big wooden chopping block like the Boos I got for Christmas a few years ago. They’re pricey, but these guys will last forever.

Wood is a natural substance and won’t leach chemicals into your food, it won’t dull your knives, and the blocks are so sturdy that you won’t have to chase them all over your counter (I used to slide all over with my flexi-boards no matter what I did to prevent it).

We’ll talk later in the week about wooden cutting board care. The big question surrounding wooden cutting boards, which often don’t call for soap, just hot water, is the bacteria thing. From the University of Tennessee:

The question is whether wooden or plastic cutting boards are more likely to harbor harmful bacteria, even after being cleaned. Some have suggested that it is “just common sense” that a porous material like wood would be harder to keep clean than plastic. It turns out that testing does not necessarily support this assumption. In fact, some studies have suggested that used wooden cutting boards are less friendly to bacteria than used plastic boards. Other studies have shown plastic to be slightly easier to clean.

Mighty Nest sells three sizes of bamboo cutting boards, which are probably the best material for a wooden cutting board since bamboo is:

  • sustainable
  • pesticide/chemical free
  • antibacterial itself

Besides all those good reasons, for all you bloggers or wannabe food photographers, look how pretty they are in pictures:

Homemade French Onion Chip Dip (15) (550x413)

My new French Onion Chip Dip, reverse engineered, part of the upcoming “Better Than a Box” and a guest post at Eating Rules for October #unprocessed.

crispy roasted chickpeas (9) (475x356)

Cool Ranch Crispy Roasted Chickpeas from Healthy Snacks To Go.

What About Raw Meat?

I do keep a few of my old plastic cutting boards around specifically for meat. I’m sure I could probably have a wooden cutting board dedicated to meat or just sanitize well in between meat and veggies, but it’s not worth it to me. I like being able to put my plastic cutting board in the dishwasher.

I use it less than once a week anyway, because I’m either using ground meat, using the whole cut of meat without, well, cutting it, or I trim with kitchen scissors on top of the package the meat came in, not using a board.

I have also kept my smaller plastic cutting boards for those quick apples that I need to slice, cutting sausage, and for children. Now that I’m writing this post, though, I don’t know why I don’t just get the smallest of the bamboo boards at Mighty Nest for my kiddos.

cutting pineapple to dehydrate (2) (500x375)

They’re hard at work cutting pineapple with me for the dehydrator. Paul, age 7, uses a real knife, and Leah, age 4, is organizing here, but she uses a cheese slicer to cut zucchini, hard-boiled eggs, cooked potatoes, and other soft foods.

Don’t think your kids can handle knives? You’d be impressed by the teachers of Real Food Kids, the newest eCourse at GNOWFGLINS. Their kids are cooking entire meals by just a smidge older than Paul. I’m always inspired when I see the classes come through my email!

What kind of cutting boards do you have? What kind do you prefer? What do you wish you had?

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Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money.  If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

Disclosure: Mighty Nest is a paid sponsor of KS. I have not tried their cutting boards, since I have my own already. I partner with GNOWFGLINS and earn commissions on sales, and I am an affiliate for Beth Terry’s eBook. See my full disclosure statement here.

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26 Comments so far ↓

  • Peggy

    I have two nasty Microban plastic boards. A nice big bamboo or two medium ones have been on my gift list forever!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Ashley Reply:

    You should add a Proteak board to your list! Amazing!!!

    http://www.proteakstore.com

    Thank me after you try it ;)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Gail Aubertin Brunt Reply:

    I wonder what the glue is that holds the wood pieces together? I’m also concerned that sanitizing is necessary.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Rebecca Reply:

    America’s Test Kitchen has done several tests on cutting boards and bacteria levels, the wooden ones have no more bacteria on them than the plastic ones do and just soap and water is all that is necessary to wash them.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Ashley,
    Wow, those are beautiful – what do you love about them? :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Anda

    Such an easy mission :) We have always had wooden and just wooden boards at home. At the moment I have two – one for raw meat and fish and one for all the other stuff.

    Here (in Latvia) they can be found in all the crafsmen markets for very reasonable prices (handmade of course).

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Christine H. Farlow, D.C.

    I struggled with the wood vs. plastic vs glass cutting boards for years. About 6 or 7 years ago, I just decided glass was the safest. It’s most easily disinfected – I still have a separate one for meat and veggies – and I’m not 100% convinced that wood is as safe as glass. Glass is not as easy to use as wood, but for my peace of mind, it’s worth it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Nicole Handfield

    You should check out epicurean. They make wood composite boards. I have a few and they can go right in the dishwasher. Easy!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Nicole Handfield Reply:

    I just went to the website and it looks like plastic is used as a binding agent. ACK!! Nothing is safe anymore!!!!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Aw, sheesh. that explains why it’s DW safe, right? I got brave and cut chicken (cooked) on mine today after reading the research on its safety! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Stay at Beach Mom

    This post is perfectly timed for me! My plastic cutting boards are all stained and gross looking which has made me wonder how clean they can really be anymore (and I hadn’t even thought of little particles getting into my food as I cut!). I’ve been thinking about replacing them, but wasn’t sure where to start so thanks for all this information!
    I read a post about DIY wood cutting boards recently (http://www.designsponge.com/2011/09/diy-project-homemade-cutting-boards.html) – do you think if I finished them with walnut oil, they’d be just as safe as the store-bought kind?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Good question – I finish mine with coconut oil because it’s so shelf stable…more on that later in the week, and maybe someone more knowledgeable than me will have an answer! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Gail Aubertin Brunt

    Think “butcher block”– they were made of wood! My grandfather ran a little meat market for years (until the late ’70′s) and he had a real butcher block cutting table, and guess what the floor was covered with? Sawdust! I guess they knew something back then about the antibacterial properties of wood… I use only wood cutting boards (like the bamboo best) and my favorite utensils are wooden.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Gail,
    Awesome connection – I guess that’s a “duh” for me. Wonder why it all has to be stainless steel now?
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rebecca

    None of the above! I have a big slab of polished granite (like countertop) that has rubber washers on the bottom corners to hold it.

    It’s heavy as can be, but so big and awesome for rolling out biscuits or pie crust! It doesn’t go in the dishwasher though.

    I also use a plastic one occasionally.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Heather

    Cutco is NOT made for glass cutting boards! Back when I sold it (over 20 years ago), they gave us plastic cutting boards for demonstrations…but they were also who first taught me why Teflon is bad.

    I use my Cutco (the knives from my demo set, all those years ago, plus a few more) on my wooden cutting boards. When hubs & I combined households, we each had a large wooden cutting board (his is truly impressive–weighs about 10 pounds), so I just chop my meat on one, scrub, sanitize with peroxide & vinegar, and let dry while I do veg on the other. They just live on top of the counters, ready to use.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Heather,
    Yep, mine lives on the counter, for sure. Thanks for clarifying about Cutco – I just knew my MIL had both a glass cutting board and Cutco knives, so I did a 2+2=3. My bad. ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Heather Reply:

    Cutco will sharpen your knives as often as you want to send them in, so I guess if you’re willing to get them sharpened more often, you can use them on glass. I’ll stick to my wooden boards–about the last thing I need in my kitchen is any more glass to break! :-)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jessica

    Perfect timing! Just yesterday my teen daughter and I were talking about the safety of cutting boards. We only have wood, but we are starting to get little wood-like flecks in our food the past couple times I have used it. I am thinking it is time to replace it. Looking forward to the post about care of the wooden boards. Perhaps it will help my next one last longer.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Pak Reply:

    Jessica-
    See if you can find someone to just sand it down for you. My husband does that to my cutting boards when they get to that point.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rebecca

    I ONLY use wood, even for meat, just soap and water or salt and water for cleanup. I have a butcher block table that is my food prep area, and about once a year it gets a light sanding and oiling, otherwise it is a major workhorse for our family, and my knives are smokin sharp!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • stephany

    I just bought a bamboo cutting board from Target… f0rmaldehyde free! I’m loving it after that plastic cutting board I had for so long! If we are using grass-fed beef and free range chickens – there shouldn’t be as big of an issue with “sickness” from our cutting boards… right? I just spray it with my vinegar and water and let it set for a bit… and off I go to the next thing to cut up! My cousin still has the huge cutting block that her dad used as a butcher YEARS AGO – I’m sure it has only been washed off… And the grease from the fatty meats has permeated it… It’s the best cutting board.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Cheryl

    Stephany above briefly mentioned an important point — formaldehyde. Many bamboo boards have a formaldehyde-based glue. Point? Do your research and avoid cheap boards. My hubby bought the mother of all bamboo cutting boards for me and it lives in my counter as there is no way I’m moving it, but I frequently pull out my smaller maple board or other bamboo boards because I can put them over a pot easily. I’ve hady maple board since my wedding shower and I love it.

    We did glass and nearly ruined our knives. I have the concern over tiny glass shardswith these boards, too. I remember watching The Frugal Gourmet 25 years ago+ on PBS when Jeff switched to a wooden spoon in his glass dish when mixing/stirring briskly small ingredients because of a viewer’s concern over tiny glass shards. Stuck with me…

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Lisa @ A Little Slice of Life

    I seriously need new cutting boards. Maybe this mission will kick my butt in gear to do it.

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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