Cutting board safety & Cross-contamination: Is your cutting board making you sick?
Thanks to COVID, that we have been so careful about letting hygiene breathe around us and our homes. From washing our hands & masks, sanitizing our furniture to disinfecting every suspected surface or object. This, has been our mantra for over 8 months now. I’ve been dying to talk to you about cutting board safety. And here’s what I want to share based on my experience with using cutting boards of different materials over the past 9 years.
While a majority of us did follow basic hygiene even before COVID happened, there are still many who woke up to the importance of sanitisation like never before. And that also includes the need to clean even the most unconventional things that do not usually fall under the cleaning cloud.
And there’s much beyond the attractive & rustic cutting boards that we often see in Instagram flatlays!
Cutting board safety: Torn between Looks & Ease
“I wash my fruits & veggies. So do I clean the meat & fish well.”
“My breads & cookies are baked. And I wash my cutting board. No room for germs. Isn’t it over there?”
That’s what I thought years ago; until my aunt told me that she had read about a research that said plastic & melamine boards were bad for health. This goes back to a time when I never looked at my kitchen items beyond the margin of aesthetic appeal & ease of cleaning.
Let me also tell you that I suffer from fingertip eczema. Which makes deep cleaning & scrubbing more difficult & painful for people like me. So, it’s natural to be on the lookout for things that do not require a rather ‘complicated’ way of washing after use. Isn’t it?
But very soon, upon researching enough on the Internet and correlating with the traditional cutting tool of many Indian kitchens in the past.
You see that there’s no contact between the food item to be cut & the board. Whatever is cut, chopped or shredded with the galvanised blade, falls directly into the collecting plate or vessel. All one needs is a little practice with the cutting part though.
The illegitimate romance between Food & your Cutting Board
Oh, wait. The above tool (called ‘Aadli’ in some of the local dialects) that my mom & mom-in-law still use occasionally in their kitchen just helped me assess the possible compromise we make when it comes to selecting our cutting board.
It’s not most feasible to use the Aadli in our modern kitchens today. Because it’s not compact and requires one to squat on the block, which may be difficult for those with orthopedic issues.
The most important thing we must know about here, is that your cutting board does interact with your food at the molecular level. Whether it is during the process of cutting & even after you’re done with the washing & cleaning part.
The very fact that any form of dampness welcomes and harbors bacteria & germs should be our guide in buying the right cutting board.
And different cutting board materials react differently with the foods being chopped on them.
Let’s look at the materials which our chopping boards are made up of & discuss what happens when we cut something on them.
Wooden Cutting Boards
Wooden cutting boards are usually made of hard wood or soft wood varieties.
Hard wood boards would include maple or teak wood, usually polished for a certain texture. However, these are fine-grained where bacteria from different foods can lead to cross-contamination, while:
- Cutting strokes & grooves that happen with the knife over time, where bacteria find a lodge.
- Juices/fluids released by meat, sea-food, fruits & vegetables seep into the grooves & mix with those of other foods that can possibly contain toxic components either in the peels or interiors.
- Washing with kitchen detergents, when the moisture is quickly absorbed and retained for a long time due to improper drying process.
Soft wood cutting boards are no different when it comes to leaving strokes & fine depressions in the board with knife, where germs get to thrive from there on into whatever is placed on them next.
More so, soft wood cutting boards wear out as fast as they make your knives blunt. I’ve used both the maple & bamboo cutting boards, both of which wore out & continued to stay damp no matter how hard I tried to dry or even oil their surfaces.
With time, they develop splinters, give out mild odor or catch fungi which should be the last cue that you need to change them.
Imagine if these invisible bacteria are the culprit behind food infections or even throat infections, as you wonder what can go wrong when you’re eating just home food.
VERDICT: Affordable, Less Durable, High maintenance & Less hygienic.
Plastic Cutting Boards
Although dishwashers aren’t really a common kitchen appliance in India, for those who depend on dishwashers, yes. Plastic cutting boards can be washed in a dishwasher. So, that’s a plus.
In addition, plastic chopping boards are the first ones to catch your attention in the kitchenware aisle of the supermarkets. They’re light, colorful & so attractive. Aren’t they?
However, the downsides are many.
Even here, fine grooves that occur with knife strokes allow germs to stay trapped just like that with wooden boards.
Moreover, most of the plastic boards are made of PolyEthylene (PE), all of which do not essentially guarantee food-grade quality. In the other case, there is possibility of the plastic material to leech into the food being cut over time. They also tend to turn furry with pronounced & deeper scratches.
Although they’re dishwasher-friendly, exposure to hot water can warp them, rendering them useless very soon.
Coming to plastic cutting board safety, they are better off when cleaned with chlorine-based detergents, in order to ensure complete disinfection from bacteria.
It’s also recommended that you use different plastic boards for different food materials. Like, you wouldn’t want to use the same board for cutting meat and fruits!
VERDICT: Cheap, fairly durable, Difficult Maintenance & Disinfection
Marble/ Granite / Glass Cutting Boards
I clubbed these together as they do not differ much in terms of their behavior with regular cutting action. They’re durable & completely inert which can exceptionally retain their smooth surfaces irrespective of the time they’re being used for.
Neither do they allow scope for germs to breed since they can be cleaned with normal detergents, dry fast on their own. Thus, they do not require much care in the maintenance department.
The downside? They’re extremely heavy & often need a bigger compartment or rack to be kept in.
VERDICT: Expensive, Extremely Durable, Heavy, Easy to disinfect.
Here’s a great marble cutting board that my mom ordered for herself a few months ago.
Steel Cutting Boards
Well, I see them as a clear winner with respect to all the qualities an ideal cutting board must possess.
Steel struck me quite late, actually. It’s been just 1.5 years that I’ve been using a steel cutting board & man, it’s awesome!
We Indians have found steel to be a family member in the kitchen. So, every time I had to replace a chopping board with a new one, I resented.
I didn’t want any bamboo or maple board anymore as I knew they would see the same fate very soon. So, I just looked up online if there were any choices that would stay well with me.
Here’s the steel cutting board that I purchased last year and I tell you, it’s been the best investment for my kitchen!
The best part is that the board has a great grip on whichever surface it’s placed on. The scratches just show up as lines and have ZERO effect on the board. What’s more, it’s the easiest thing to clean and maintain.
VERDICT: Reasonable, Durable, light-weight , Food-safe & easy to clean & disinfect.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase by clicking on it, I earn a tiny commission at no extra cost to you. If you do, I’m all thanks! I only recommend products that I have personally used or experienced. Please read my full disclosure.
Which type of cutting board(s) do you use? Are you assessing them according to cutting board safety with food? Are you planning to upgrade yours?