Wooden or Plastic Cutting and Service Boards

Recent studies and articles listed below prove that wooden boards are safer to use in the home and of course they are environmentally friendly!

Wooden Cutting Boards Kill Bacteria

In Plastic and Wooden Cutting Boards by Dean O. Cliver, Ph.D of UC Davis, they noted that “the U.S. Department of Agriculture told us they had no scientific evidence to support their recommendation that plastic, rather than wooden cutting boards be used in home kitchens”.

The problem is that while it may seem like plastic is non-porous and can’t absorb liquids, with use the surface becomes knife-scarred. This rough surface is exceptionally difficult to clean, even with bleach or running through the dishwasher. Wood, by contrast, shows the ability to halt the growth of and kill bacteria applied to its surface. Both new and used wooden cutting boards maintain this ability equally well.

Wood Versus Salmonella, Listeria and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli

In a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin (also by Dr. Cliver), they tested bacteria known to produce food poisoning – Salmonella, Listeria and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli. These bacteria were placed on cutting boards made from seven different species of trees and four types of plastic. All the wooden boards consistently outperformed the plastic.

The scientists found that three minutes after contaminating a board that 99.9 percent of the bacteria on wooden boards had died, while none of the bacteria died on plastic. Bacterial numbers actually increased on plastic cutting boards held overnight at room temperature, but the scientists could not recover any bacteria from wooden boards treated the same way.

Dr. Cliver also discusses a case-control study of sporadic salmonellosis in Plastic and Wooden Cutting Boards:

(This study) revealed that those using wooden cutting boards in their home kitchens were less than half as likely as average to contract salmonellosis (odds ratio 0.42, 95% confidence interval 0.22-0.81), those using synthetic (plastic or glass) cutting boards were about twice as likely as average to contract salmonellosis (O.R. 1.99, C.I. 1.03-3.85); and the effect of cleaning the board regularly after preparing meat on it was not statistically significant (O.R. 1.20, C.I. 0.54-2.68).

Basically, wood cutting boards kill bacteria. Wood binds up water, which bacteria needs to grow. Wood also contains antimicrobial compounds. (Given that many other plants can be used as natural antibiotics, this is not entirely surprising.)  Old or new, wood cutting boards add an extra line of defense to your kitchen. Bamboo may have similar properties, but the only test data I was able to find about antimicrobial properties of bamboo focused on bamboo cloth. Read Bamboo – is it Antimicrobial?

Survival of bacteria on wood and plastic particles

The study “Survival of bacteria on wood and plastic particles: Dependence on wood species and environmental conditions” by Annett Milling, Rolf Kehr, Alfred Wulf and Kornelia Smalla compared bacteria growth (E. coli andE. faecium) in seven types sawdust and plastic (polyethylene chips). They found that the sawdust reduced the bacteria count, with pine and oak performing the best. From the abstract: “The presented study shows that pine and oak exhibit substantially better hygienic performance than plastic and indicates an antibacterial effect caused by a combination of the hygroscopic properties of wood and the effect of wood extractives.”

Spare that wood cutting board, it might not spoil the salad. That is what the research of a food biologist at the Food Research Institute of the University of Wisconsin at Madison indicates.

Next Study

Professor Dean O. Cliver had heard the warnings about wood cutting boards. Namely that a disease-causing bacterium, like salmonella from raw chicken, will soak into a wood cutting board and later contaminate the lettuce cut up on the same surface. On the other hand, plastic cutting boards, with their harder surfaces, were supposed to be safer than those made of wood.

But when Cliver and a fellow researcher began testing wood and plastic cutting boards for bacteria, they found just the opposite.

After a year of working with several bacteria known to produce food poisoning, they found that the bacteria thrived on the plastic cutting board but virtually disappeared from the surface of the wood boards.

Cliver said that he and fellow researcher, Nese O. Ak, found that three minutes after they contaminated new and hacked-up wood and plastic boards with bacteria, 99 per cent of the bacteria on the surface of the wood boards had died. None of the bacteria died on the plastic boards.

Moreover, when the bacteria on plastic boards were held overnight at room temperature, their numbers increased. Meanwhile, no bacteria were found on the wood boards given the same overnight treatment.

What this means, Cliver said is that “small lapses in kitchen sanitation are less of a problem with a wood cutting board than with a plastic one.”

Cliver said that as a result of the study, he feels comfortable using his wooden cutting board to cut up a raw chicken and then to chop lettuce for a salad, as long as the board is washed with detergent and water between the tasks.

If he were using a plastic cutting board, especially one gouged with knife marks, he said he would feel comfortable only if, between the tasks, the board was washed in an automatic dishwasher. Bacteria can hide in the gouges of a plastic cutting board, he said.

When told of the outlines of the findings, one USDA home economist said that the researchers may be onto something.

On the other side of the issue, Cliver, 58 years old and a veteran researcher, said he has yet to find the scientific basis for the idea that wood cutting boards are not safe.

And on personal level, it meant that I was justified in hanging on to my favorite cutting board.

It is ancient. It is heavy. It is a pain to clean.

But that wood cutting board is an old friend. It knows its away around the kitchen, and apparently it knows how to handle bacteria.

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