I recently received a plastic and a wooden cutting board. Unfortunately neither came with cleaning instructions. I use the plastic type for the meats, and the wooden for vegetables, fruits and breads. How do I make sure I am not having any bacteria or other bad things pass on to other foods? In other words, how do I clean my cutting boards? Thanks--Gordon
It may surprise you to hear this, but tests of bacteria counts on well maintained cutting boards actually show that wood may actually be as safe as, or safer than, plastic! The grooves cut into the plastic board during regular use are a great harbor for nasties.
Cutting boards are made from several materials, including wood, various plastics, glass and bamboo. Wooden boards may be solid block, glued up pieces, laminates or wood composite particle boards. Dealing with the first issue, if you have a glass cutting board, throw it out. Glass dulls knives.
Generally, wooden boards that are either solid or glued up from boards or blocks need to be hand washed. Washing them in a dishwasher or leaving them to soak will leech out natural oils and eventually cause the wood to check or split. Use a clean dishrag to scrub them well in hot soapy water. After cutting poultry, it is a good idea to either clean them first in a weak bleach solution (1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of hot water) or have a spray bottle with the chlorine solution to spray them down with. Rinse and then wash as above. Rinse again to remove any soap left on the surface.
Some people like to occasionally wipe their wooden cutting boards with a cloth moistened with mineral oil. This helps restore the surface appearance and may help prevent food odors from getting into the pores of the wood. If you do that, allow it to sit for a minute and then buff with a paper towel to remove any excess oil.
If your wooden board starts to get deep cuts or chunks missing from the surface, or if it develops an off odor, then either replace it or it may be possible to have it resurfaced by planing off the top of the board. Plastic or laminate boards that are badly marred or become smelly should be thrown out.
Plastic cutting boards can usually be washed in your dishwasher, assuming you have one, but should not be run through a sterilize or heat dry cycle as these may permanently damage the board. The hot water and dishwasher soap should be enough to sterilize the board, but you may still want to give them a bleach treatment after cutting up poultry before putting them in the dishwasher. If you don't have a dishwasher, then wash them as above for wooden boards. Plastic boards can be left to soak.
Some laminate and bamboo boards will tolerate the dishwasher, but follow manufacturers' instructions. If you aren't sure, then hand wash.
Personally, I almost exclusively use rigid white plastic cutting boards because of their convenience. I look for ones that are not so smooth as to slide around or have the knife or food slide on them.
One final comment on the issue of cross contamination from your cutting board, always cut meat or poultry last. If you can't do that, use a second board or wash your cutting board well, as described above, before cutting anything else.