I've always loved wooden cutting boards; the rustic old-timey way they look, their sturdy weight, and the crisp "thud" sound the blade of a knife makes against the surface, signaling something delicious is being prepared.
But we never used wooden cutting boards in our house.
That's because I grew up with the mentality that wooden cutting boards absorb all sorts of germs and bacteria into its porous material, even more so after frequent use, and that plastic cutting boards are far superior as are more easily properly cleaned to ensure food prepared on top of them stays hygienic. Plus, they're usually cheaper.
But are plastic cutting boards really better? I decided to do some research on this topic, and here's what I found out.
As it turns out, plastic cutting boards are no easier to keep clear of bacteria and harmful germs than wooden cutting boards are. In fact, plastic cutting boards may be more hazardous to our health than wooden ones are. This is true according to research conducted by Dean O Oliver, PhD, who is professor emeritus of food safety at the University of California, Davis.
Studies done on cutting boards' ability to hold on to harmful bacteria such as Salmonella have shown that the germs lingered on the surface of plastic cutting boards much longer than on wooden ones. Bacteria was particularly prevalent on cutting boards that have been used, as the tears created by knives mean bacteria would get caught in the grooves and become difficult to remove, even when scrubbed with soap. No amount of soap completely eliminated germs from the surface of used plastic cutting boards. Running plastic cutting boards through the dishwasher also did not solve the problem, as this only helped redeposit the bacteria onto other surfaces. Soaking plastic cutting boards in a bucket of bleach overnight seemed to be the only way to completely eliminate bacteria from the surface, but honestly, that's wasteful and who has that kind of time?
Wooden cutting boards, on the other hand, had the ability to suck bacteria and germs down beneath the surface, but once there, the bacteria did not multiply and eventually died off. Even deep cuts made into the wood with a sharp blade did not bring the bacteria back up to the surface. What's more, wooden cutting boards can be microwaved to ensure all bacteria and germs are effectively killed — after the board has already been washed clean of any food, of course. This is something you can't do with plastic cutting boards as they're not usually designed to be microwave safe. However, if you do choose to microwave a wooden cutting board to disinfect it, make sure there aren't any metal parts in it, otherwise it will create sparks inside the microwave, creating a hazard.
(Being able to microwave a wooden cutting board in order to disinfect it was fascinating information to find out, but it also begged the question: how on earth do you fit a wooden cutting board into a microwave?)
Some may still be drawn to plastic cutting boards as they are, in most cases, much cheaper than good wooden cutting boards. They are also lighter, easier to store and can come in a variety of fun patterns and designs. However, the truth is, plastic cutting boards simply don't last as long as wooden ones, as even non-porous plastic can quickly be ripped to shreds by frequent use, which creates unsightly tears on the surface, which then becomes easily stained.
Wooden cutting boards may cost a little more, but they may end up being a better investment as they will last a lot longer. You will rarely be able to see any cuts in the surface unless there are particularly deep ones, and those can be easily smoothed out with a little patience and sandpaper.
I personally keep several cutting boards at home. One is for raw food that will be cooked, such as meat, another is for fresh veggies, while yet another is for clean fruit.
I use one cutting board exclusively for raw food that will be cooked because I don't worry too much over bacteria transfers on that board, as the food will be cooked anyway. Fresh vegetables, such as ingredients that will go into a salad, get their own cutting board, as I don't want to risk transferring any bacteria from the "raw-food-to-be-cooked" board onto my vegetables. Fruit get their own board as well, since I have a sensitive palate and I've noticed that when I use the same cutting board for veggies and fruit, even when I've washed the board in between, certain vegetable smells will be transferred into my fruit plate. Maybe it's all in my head, but I swear I've tasted tomato in my pears when I've used the same board to prepare both.
And let's not forget the importance of having a board for cheese. Not only because cheese has such distinct and wonderful smells, but sometimes there's just nothing better than seeing a spread of beautiful cheeses across a wooden serving board, paired with a glass of wine.