Dear Home-Ec 101,
This past weekend I attempted to fix a wood (plank, not end-grain) cutting board with some pretty deep cuts in it, and wound up totally botching the project. Do you have any tips or tricks for cutting board maintenance? Any recommendations for a new cutting board, since I ruined the old one? Thanks so much.
First and most important tip for selecting a cutting board.
Just say no to glass cutting boards.
Glass cutting boards are slippery and dull your knives. (If your knives are already dull, here’s a handy knife sharpening tutorial).
Second: Own at least two cutting boards, unless you are a vegetarian. It’s simpler to avoid cross contamination if you have one cutting board reserved for handling meat products.
Plastic v Wood Cutting Boards
Some people prefer plastic cutting boards on the premise that they are easier to sanitize. However cleaning and sanitizing a cutting board is two step process, first all of the organic soil (food bits etc) must be washed away and then the cutting board needs to be sanitized. You can use dilute chlorine bleach, heat, or properly diluted food grade hydrogen peroxide. Some suggest using vinegar or lemon juice for sanitizing purposes, but I am not comfortable with this recommendation in cases where someone in the home has a compromised immune system -just FYI: taking an acid reducing medication like Nexium (just an example) reduces your body’s ability to fight off ingested bacteria.
Plastic cutting boards may be more vulnerable -depending on the softness of the plastic- to scarring. These scars provide excellent hidey holes for bacteria which makes the cleaning and sanitizing process more difficult. That said, plastic cutting boards can be tossed in the dishwasher, which I find incredibly convenient.
Plastic cutting boards have no maintenance outside of the regular cleaning and sanitizing; they are also fairly inexpensive and should be replaced often as they show wear.
Wood cutting boards are attractive, fairly durable, and those of the hardwood variety are less likely to scar deeply which reduces the ability for bacteria to hang on during cleaning. Wooden cutting boards also seem to have some natural antibacterial properties. (Here’s a journal article on this, but it isn’t free)
Wooden cutting boards do have some minor maintenance requirements to help maintain their appearance and improve their lifespan. Every other month apply a light coating of food grade mineral oil to your cutting board.
Small scratches in wooden cutting boards typically heal, but if a deep scratch occurs, it can be scraped out using a plane or scraper. Avoid sandpaper as it can leave grit behind that may dull your knives. Follow up scratch repair with another coat of food grade mineral oil.
Do NOT place wooden cutting boards in the dishwasher.
Do NOT soak wooden cutting boards or allow them to sit in a puddle of water. If the cutting board is a solid piece (usually fairly expensive) it may warp and split. If the board is glued together, the water will damage the glue and you may end up with several too small pieces.
Always sanitize your workspace after working with raw meat.
The type of cutting board you choose is mostly based on personal preference, budget, and habits. I use plastic because they are cheap and can easily be tossed in the dishwasher. Down the road I plan on getting a nice hardwood chopping block, but I am aware that it has higher maintenance requirements.
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