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Butcher Block or Plastic? Which Makes for a Safer Cutting Board?

Some folks wrongly believe that plastic cutting boards are safer than wooden boards. They seem to think that because plastic is a non-porous surface, it must be resistant to bacteria; and that wood – a porous material – must soak up juices from raw meats, creating an environment that’s friendly to harmful bacteria.

Wood Cutting Boards Proven More Sanitary than Plastic

Researchers have tackled the question head-on by applying large quantities of disease-causing bacteria (those commonly found in raw meat and seafood) to wood and to plastic cutting boards alike. Their finding is that wood boards are more sanitary than plastic boards. One particular study reported that more than 99 percent of the bacteria applied to the wood cutting board died within three minutes, while the bacteria on the plastic cutting board actually multiplied.

It isn't exactly clear why this is the case. Even after hand-washing both the wood and plastic cutting boards with hot, soapy water, the plastic boards still carried more bacteria than did the wood boards. One problem with plastic cutting boards is the nicks and gouges they commonly harbor – the result of innumerable knife strikes. When high levels of bacteria lodge in these narrow crevices, they can remain even after repeated washings by hand. High-quality wood butcher blocks and cutting boards (such as those made with Hard Rock Maple and other premium hardwoods) are more resistant to knife damage. Washing wood boards by hand effectively removed the bacteria from the surface of the cutting board. This important advantage applies to any butcher block surface, not just wooden cutting boards. If you prepare food on butcher block – regardless whether it’s a countertop, an island, a kitchen cart or a cutting board, you will benefit from wood’s natural germ-killing properties.

Keeping Your Work Surface Clean Is What’s Most Important

Whether your cutting surface is made of wood or plastic, what's most important is that you keep it clean. Here are some tips for cleaning and maintaining wood surfaces in the kitchen that you use for food preparation.

  • After every use, butcher block cutting boards and countertops should be scrubbed with hot soapy water, rinsed clean, and dried with an absorbent cloth. 
  • Wood surfaces can be sanitized by applying a mixture of one teaspoon chlorine bleach and one quart of water. It's handy to keep on hand a spray bottle full of this mixture. Saturate the surface of the wood with the bleach solution, let it stand for several minutes, then rinse and pat it dry with an absorbent cloth. 
  • Never allow liquids to remain in contact with wood surfaces for long periods of time. Doing so can damage the wood.
  • Regularly apply food-safe butcher block oil to wood surfaces to help prevent the wood from drying and cracking. We recommend that you oil wood at least monthly, and whenever the wood begins to appear dry.

You can read more about the wood vs. plastic scientific study.