The Cutting Board Debate: Wood or Plastic?

We seem to have (finally!) arrived at some controversy on this blog, such as it is: Should you use plastic or wood cutting boards in your kitchen?

In one corner, we have a commenter on this website who says wood is preferable, making the argument that a wooden cutting board kills bacteria on the surface of the board, whereas plastic just lets it sit there and fester.

In the other corner, there's me, and I disagree. Wood is more porous than plastic. Wood retains cooking smells more than plastic does and of course all smells are particulate--meaning there's "stuff" giving off that smell still on (or in--blech) the board. You can do your own experiment on this yourself: slice up a couple of onions on a wood cutting board as well as a plastic cutting board but then only moderately wash both cutting boards. You'll find the wood board gives off more "onion vibe" than the plastic board.

Do I prefer plastic cutting boards exclusively? No, because we own a wood cutting board too. Wood boards actually look a bit nicer and they’re not THAT much harder to deal with. I just think that plastic cutting boards are on margin more sanitary, easier to clean and a bit less expensive.

The Cutting Board Rules:
In any case, here are five rules of thumb for handling all cutting boards, whether wood or plastic:

1) Bleach me:
If your cutting board becomes discolored after extensive use, wash with a mild bleach solution (~10% bleach in cold water). Watch you don’t splash yourself on the clothes or more importantly in the eyes.... :)

2) Harsh and miserable:
Every so often it doesn’t hurt to put your cutting board in the dishwasher. The harsh, miserable environment inside a running dishwasher will sterilize the crap out of your cutting board, and that’s a good thing. However, I do NOT recommend this if you have a cutting board that is both wood and made of multiple PIECES of wood. Why? Because that same harsh, miserable environment inside your running dishwasher will also degrade the glue agents that are holding together the wood slats of your cutting board. Trust me, it will shorten the lifespan of the board if you put it in the dishwasher too often. Obviously with a plastic cutting board you won’t need to worry about this.

3) Be careful with meat:
An important rule to follow in your kitchen is to be VERY careful with anything you use when handling meats. You should never use the a cutting board for meat and use that same cutting board to handle other foods without first washing that board thoroughly with hot water and plenty of dish detergent.

4) Be REALLY careful with chicken:
This “meat rule” holds especially true with chicken. Heck, when you are handling chicken, I would also recommend rinsing the chicken itself in very warm water, and then patting dry with paper towels, just to be extra safe. It goes without saying that you should fully cook the surface of any solid meat (rare on the inside of a steak is okay), and you should fully cook any ground meats through and through. We can cover the rationale behind this in greater depth in a later post. And finally, carefully wash EVERYTHING that touches the meat. That includes the knives, the cutting boards, any counter space--and most importantly, your hands!

5) Consider a “Kosher” approach:
Own two cutting boards and use one for meat and one for veggies. That way you’ll be inserting an extra failsafe (separate boards AND careful cleaning) to make sure you never handle uncooked meat and other foods too closely.

I've been told that the way I handle raw chicken borders on OCD or even abject paranoia (multiple handwashings, repeated washings of the knife, cutting board and counter... you get the picture). But I will NOT allow any of my family or any of my readers to come down with salmonella or an e. coli infection. Not on my watch!

Related Posts:
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A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food
How to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking With Five Easy Questions

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Anonymous said...

Do you think plastic cutting boards are more likely to dull knife blades? It seems to me that wood would "absorb" some of the pressure the blade puts against the board, whearas the plastic surface doesn't "give" much.


Anonymous said...

Think about it, wood cutting boards have been used for centuries, and safety was not such a big issue until plastic, glass and other synthetics entered the scene.

In addition to centuries of use, studies have proven again and again that wood boards are safe.

A properly and beautifully constructed wooden board is safe, and yes, much easier on knife edges; will last for years and are a joy to have in the kitchen.

Small, "onion and garlic" boards are handy for those specific jobs and can be deodorized by using baking soda, salt, vinegar or lemon juice - take your pick.

By the way, 3% hydrogen peroxide is an effective disinfectant. Forget the smelly bleach.
Beautiful Wooden Accessories for Your Home

Daniel said...

Thanks for the discussion and feedback. And by the looks of this one poster's website (, his stuff DOES look like a joy to have in the kitchen. Very impressive craftsmanship!

Also appreciate the comment on peroxide solution.