Food safety experts used to warn against using wooden cutting boards, saying they were more likely to harbor bacteria than plastic cutting ones. But newer research shows that both kinds can be safe if you follow some simple steps.
Use at least two. “Have one board for raw meat, fish, and poultry,” says Sana Mujahid, PhD, manager of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports. “Have a separate board for ready-to-eat items such as bread, fruits, and vegetables.” This helps prevent cross contamination—for example, you don’t run the risk of transferring salmonella or another type of bacteria from chicken to your veggies if you cut them on different surfaces.
Clean thoroughly. Even if you’re just slicing a loaf of bread, it’s good to get in the habit of washing cutting boards—wood or plastic— with hot, soapy water after every use. Plastic boards can also go in the dishwasher. Periodically sanitize both types of boards by flooding the surface with a diluted bleach solution (1 gallon of water mixed with 1 tablespoon of bleach). Then rinse with plain water. Always dry cutting boards completely before storing them, so moisture-loving bacteria have less opportunity to grow.
Baby your wooden boards. After you sanitize, rub a food-grade mineral oil and then a beeswax-based cream into the wood with a paper towel. This creates a barrier on the surface to prevent the absorption of liquids, so your board may last longer. Odors, such as those from garlic or onions, can cling to even clean wood boards. A lemon and salt scrub can help get rid of them. Slice the lemon in half, dip it into coarse salt, and rub vigorously, then rinse the board in cold water and dry.
Know when to buy a new board. Over time, any cutting board (plastic or wood) can develop deep scratches or grooves that may trap bacteria, which could then spread to your food. Harder materials, such as bamboo and maple, are less prone to scarring than softer woods, such as cypress. Replace any cutting board when it becomes heavily scarred.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated. It originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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