> Plastic vs. Wood Chopping Boards - The Food Safety Company Plastic vs. Wood Chopping Boards - The Food Safety Company
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    Monday, 6 February 2017

    Plastic vs. Wood Chopping Boards

    When plastic chopping boards first gained traction it was right around the time when plastic began to make its way into everything, the mid 1900’s. For a long time it was believed that plastic chopping boards were more hygienic than traditional wood ones. The line of thought in determining that plastic was safer than wood had to do with the non-porous surface. An unbroken work surface would, in theory, be less likely to absorb liquids. Cross-contamination risk is thereby lessened as juices from meats had no means of lingering. In the essay Plastic and Wooden Cutting Boards by Dean O. Cliver, he states that, though the USDA insisted on plastic, “they had no scientific evidence to support their recommendation.”


    Plastic cutting boards are extremely popular today, used in commercial and home kitchens alike. Plastic can come in any color, allowing kitchens to colour-code chopping boards to prevent cross-contamination. They are dishwasher-safe making for an easier clean-up, and are less expensive than wood. However, there are good and bad plastics. Slick materials, like acrylic, dull the knife. It’s best to stick to polyethylene or polypropylene.

    Once a plastic cutting board is knife-scarred or has a broken surface, it becomes exceptionally difficult to clean even when subjected to vigorous means, like bleach treatment. The risk of contamination is especially great with older plastic chopping boards. Riddled with dents, these old boards create an ideal area to harbor bacteria. Often, leftover germs will make people feel ill after eating a meal prepared on a worn chopping board. Grosser still, mould can grow under the surface of the board. The mould will manifest itself as staining, but may go unnoticed (tip: surface stains can be removed with lemon juice). If you own a battle-worn plastic cutting board, it’s best to bin it.

    However, plastic chopping boards in good condition are great to use when preparing raw meat. Unlike wood, plastic can safely be put into the dishwasher. The intense cleaning and high temperature washing will kill any traces of bacteria.

     A controversial study from 1993 carried out by the University of Wisconsin found that bacteria multiplies more readily on plastic as opposed to wood surfaces. Chopping boards of four types of plastic and seven kinds of wood were left unwashed overnight. Each board had bacteria on the surface. Bacteria did not survive on the wood boards, but thrived and multiplied on plastic boards.


    Unlike plastic which tends to dull knife blades, wood chopping boards have less wear on knives. As the material itself is hardier, there is less of a chance of severe denting or scratching. Though one of the great things about wood is that even if the surface is nicked or scratched, the top level of the board can be removed with a refinisher. This treatment renders a damaged board good as new. On the other hand, if a plastic board becomes knife-scarred, it must be thrown out. Therefore, wood is long-lasting and can be in use for years. Additionally, wood is heat resistant, allowing cooks to place hot pots and pans on its surface.

    Wood chopping boards do come with a drawback: they require regular conditioning. Food-grade mineral oil must be applied to the surface monthly (or as often as is remembered) to keep the board looking lustrous. Actually choosing a wooden board can be nerve-wracking due to the vast number of choices. The process requires quite a bit of research. Check out this guide if you’re interested.

    Wood supposedly halts the growth of bacteria on its surface. In the study mentioned above, 99.9% of bacteria on wooden surfaces died within three minutes of contamination. Wood does not suffer bacteria for long and this property persists regardless of age. Some argue that bacteria are simply absorbed into the wood, but this has been a source of debate for over a decade. It is true that wood chopping boards absorb things, such as scents, oils and liquids. They are more susceptible to staining which is why people tend to use them for prepping vegetables or ready-to-eat foods.

    Best Practice

    To keep chopping boards free of bacteria, dry them with a disposable towel as soon as they’ve been washed. This minimizes the time in which bacteria can multiply. Don’t stack damp boards together as this creates a breeding ground.

    Be sure to wash chopping boards with hot water and soap. It’s okay to use the same chopping board for meat and veggies as long as the board has been washed.  

    Do not subject wooden chopping boards to excessive water. Doing so may warp it or cause it to crack.

    In the end, wood and plastic boards can be used to prepare meat or vegetables. It all comes down to maintenance and cleanliness. A plastic board that is full of dents should be thrown out and wood boards should be regularly treated. In lieu of sanitising plastic chopping boards in the dishwasher, pour boiling water over their surface. 

    Jacqui Litvan

    Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).
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