Is Plastic Really Better than Wood for Cutting Boards?

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist August 20, 2011

Preparation

Cutting boards of various shapes and sizes are very important tools in any home where meals are freshly prepared.

Which material is truly best for food prep safety, however?  Are plastic or wood cutting boards preferable?  The answer might surprise you!

Plastic has long been considered superior to wood, and people have generally preferred this type of material in the name of food safety.  The  prevailing wisdom is that plastic is less hospitable to bacteria, and therefore, would be safer.

Research simply does not bear this out in practice, however.  As it turns out, wood is much less likely to harbor pathogenic bacteria than plastic!

The research was conducted by food microbiologists at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and they discovered that wood somehow killed bacteria that plastic did not.  The manner in which the bacteria perished on the wood but not on the plastic is not known.

The scientists found that 3 minutes after contaminating a wooden cutting board, 99.9% of the pathogenic bacteria had died, while none of the bacteria died on plastic.

In addition, bacteria held at room temperature overnight on a plastic cutting board increased in number, but the researchers could not find any bacteria present on wood treated in exactly the same manner.

So it seems that the prevailing “wisdom” that plastic is safer than wood is not true after all.

I was happy to discover this information as I have always intuitively preferred wood over plastic cutting boards.  I find wood to be more stable than plastic and I have always thought that little bits of plastic or chemicals must be somehow released into the food from the repeated chopping with a knife.  I have no evidence of this; it is just a hunch and so I have stayed away from plastic and have always stuck with wood.

I have steered clear of plastic cutting boards with special antimicrobial surfaces for a similar reason.  Any product that boasts that it is antimicrobial screams “hormone disrupting chemicals” to me, so I avoid them like the plague.

Best to stick with old fashioned wood, and while you’re at it – choose bamboo if possible as it is a sustainable natural resource.

* As an aside, I have a theory about how the pathogenic bacteria are destroyed on the wood but not the plastic. Lactobacilli is a beneficial bacteria on the surface of all natural things, including our own skin, and it will kill off pathogens.  This is why grassfed raw milk is safer than pasteurized as the probiotics in the raw milk kill off any pathogens that might get into it (pasteurized just gets contaminated if the same thing were to happen).   Perhaps this is the same method for how pathogens on wood cutting boards are destroyed within 3 minutes yet this same thing does not happen on plastic cutting boards?

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Source:  Wood Cutting Boards, not Plastic, are Safer for Food Prep

 

Comments (191)

  1. I’m curious about how a glass cutting board would fare. While they can be porous, wouldn’t you think with proper cleaning they’d be safe as well?
    Thanks :)

    Reply
  2. Amber Moon via Facebook August 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I came to the realization years ago that if the FDA, USDA CDC or any other GOVT entity makes a claim on ANY health related topic, you can just go ahead & do the opposite & you will be on the right track. Think about it..keeping people sick keeps people employed in govt jobs..

    Reply
  3. Ramona Chiasson via Facebook August 20, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I have a cutting board made of wood from a rubber tree..it’s really quite pretty. I can’t say the same of any plastic one I’ve ever seen.

    Reply
  4. Most of the bamboo I’ve seen comes from China (like everything else). Any suggestions where to buy bamboo cutting boards? Does ‘made in China’ make a difference?

    Reply
  5. Amber Moon via Facebook August 20, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Actually..let me restate that..if the GOVT makes ANY claim whatsoever on anything..we know it isn’t true.

    Reply
  6. Melissa Johnson Knight via Facebook August 20, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    I have a glass cutting board because it just *feels* safer, plus it is slim and can be lid away easily in my cabinet. :-) Wood sure is a lot prettier, though.

    Reply
  7. lol, can you explain to me why bamboo is more sustainable than wood? That’s just propaganda to justify shutting down our logging industry and turn this country into a third world type so we’ll buy into the new world order. A shame that we just follow rather than think for ourselves. . . .

    Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
      Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist August 20, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      Bamboo grows really fast while hardwood trees that are cut down would take many years to regrow. My neighbor has bamboo and it grows like a weed. There is no doubt it is a better material to use than chopping down hundred year old trees! I am sorry it harms the logging industry but cutting down trees is not the way to go environmentally speaking!

      Reply
    • Bamboo is more sustainable because it grows up very quickly. So if you chop it down to make something, you can grow it right back up and use it again in a matter of months. Trees do not grow as fast, so when you chop one down, it take a lot longer for it to grow back up to a usable size.

      I personally don’t like bamboo cutting boards, I find them to be a slow surface to cut on.

      Reply
  8. I like using hot soapy water and letting it dry. Treating with olive oil helps keep it from cracking. I’ve used lemon juice when I feel like it’s needed. Hate the small plastic board that came with a set of knives I bought once.

    Reply
  9. I like using hot soapy water and letting it dry. Treating with olive oil helps keep it from cracking. I’ve used lemon juice when I feel like it’s needed. Hate the small plastic board that came with a set of knives I bought once. Check Etsy for some really nice wood ones. I’ve seen shops that have a wood business and then make boards out of their leftovers.

    Reply
    • Pavil, the Uber Noob August 20, 2011 at 9:10 pm

      I never use soap on wooden utensils and boards. I rinse, dry and coat with virgin coconut oil (VCO). The medium chain fatty acids in the VCO are hostile to pathogens in addition to being an excellent wood treatment. It seems to me that soap is way overrated for wood and cast iron.

      Ciao, Pavil

      Reply
  10. Quite a few years ago there was an article in Reader’s Digest about how wood naturally killed off germs and was safer than plastic.

    Reply
  11. Can’t wait to hear of a study to find the “secret” formula that they can then patent and add into plastic!

    I have always used plastic boards. They’re light weight and usually thinner than wood. I haven’t been concerned about bacteria hiding out in them. Our family is almost never sick, we see the Dr. maybe once a year for an ear infection or sore throat and that’s about it. We’ve elminated most food additives from our eating and I’ve seen a huge improvement–even in seasonal allergy symptoms, since about the last 2 yrs. Stomach ‘bugs’ don’t seem to plague our family. But don’t think that means I don’t use common sense with plastic boards. We do meat and veggies on separate ones, and wash with hottest water and sterilize in the dishwasher about once a week.

    Reply
    • Plastic and the hot temperatures of a dishwasher? Wow. That just doesn’t sound like a good mix, nor does it sound logical. I’m not a fan of plastic and I never put mine in the dishwasher if I do use something plastic. Same with microwaving. I hardly ever use a microwave but if I do I don’t use plastic in there! Something is released in plastic when there’s heat involved. I ain’t no scientist so I don’t have anything “scientific” to add (as if that would or should matter).

      I’ll stay with my wooden cutting board. I have taken a black marker and put a small “V” on one side and a small “M” on the other ( for veggies and meat) and we use it accordingly. I wash mine in the sink with warm water and a dab of Sal Suds, let it dry in the rack and then use coconut oil to treat it. Been doing it this way for years and seems to work ok.

      Reply
      • Didn’t think about that. I use the DW because I know that plastic is porous and never feel they get clean with hand washing. Thanks for that food for thought!

        I actually like the new bamboo ones–but they are so unnecessarily expensive!

        Reply
      • “Plastic and the hot temperatures of a dishwasher? Wow. That just doesn’t sound like a good mix, nor does it sound logical”.

        Look inside your dishwasher – it is probably a stainless tub with a plastic components and a plastic/rubberized rack. Sterilizing a plastic cutting board in the dishwasher is recommended. We use both plastic and wood CBs – both have a place, and both can be safe.

        Reply
  12. Anita Messenger via Facebook August 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    My parents had a grocery store when I was growing up with a small meat dept. We had a big wood butcher block for cutting meat, etc. We used a scraper to scrape the wood top clean of meat, blood, etc. We were actually taking a small layer of the wood off each time but it’s made of hardwood and it takes forever to lose much of it. We never sprayed it with anything or put soap or water on it. We scraped until we could see fresh clean wood again. Presently I have a small plastic cutting board that I don’t use very much. I seem to find other ways to cut up any food I’m working on. I would be very happy to find a good wood cutting board, though. Or a butcher block like we used to have.

    Reply
  13. Sarah, do you use oil to condition the wood? Mineral oil is always recommended, but I’m not comfortable with it since it’s a petroleum product. I’ve read that olive and other vegetable oils can go rancid, and can support bacterial growth. That’s my big dilemma with using wooden cutting boards.

    Reply
      • Thanks! I don’t know why I never thought to use coconut oil… duh! I have to condition my wooden boards. I can’t stand when they’re all dried out and flaky. :)

        I hate to admit that I much prefer wood/bamboo to plastic, and I have been using mineral oil to condition. I just wipe it all off as much as possible, and let the board “dry” well before I use it again. I cringe everytime I use them though, because I know we’re consuming small amounts of mineral oil. I’m definitely doing coconut oil from now on! Thanks again.

        Reply
  14. Tamara Ward via Facebook August 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    I have two wooden cutting boards and one plastic; the plastic one sometimes winds up with a terrible smell and has to be scraped and disinfected. Bleecch!

    Reply
  15. Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

    I know this is a really weird reason why I have always hated plastic cutting boards, but I hate the sound that they make when the knife hits the plastic. So annoying and not at all natural. The sound of the knife hitting the wood is so much more pleasant and relaxing as you go about your work in the kitchen – at least to me.

    Reply
  16. I was debating getting new cutting boards because mine are all plastic, but all the ones I can find in the stores have “issues” that I wonder about. The wooden ones are pieced together like a pretty quilt so I wonder what kind of glue they used to glue all the pieces together. The bamboo ones seem to have some kind of finish on them, like a varnish or a polyurethane coating on them. Won’t that end up in the food in little pieces when I am cutting stuff up? I really don’t want to feed my family glue or varnish any more than I want to feed them plastic. Suggestions?

    Reply
  17. Does anyone know anything about the wooden boards used in the plastic vv wood experiment? What kind of wood, and how new? I’m just thinking that if they used freshly cut pine, for instance, the essential oils in the wood would be powerfully anti-bacterial. The same wouldn’t be true of an older board, or of bamboo.

    Reply
  18. This makes so much sense considering that plastic storage containers really like to hold on to the smell of the food. After hand washing, even the lids on my glass pyrex containers will hold onto the smell of whatever food was in the container. The dishwasher seems to be the only way to get the smell out, but of course that has it’s own problems (way too hot for plastics but I’m okay with it for a lid that won’t touch the food). Seems like cutting boards would be the same. Too bad all of my cutting boards are plastic, but maybe someday they’ll get replaced.

    Reply
  19. One of my cutting boards is the Epicurean brand Kitchen Series, nice because it’s 1/4″ thin and lightweight. I’ve often wondered how these compare to wood. They’re a pressed wood fiber pressed with food safe resin. The company website says they’re sustainably harvested, bacteria resistant, eco-friendly, 100% USA-made, won’t dull your knives, and can be washed by hand or in the dishwasher, no oil necessary. I wonder what’s in that “food safe resin” and what its health effects might be, if any. Any thoughts or findings on this?

    Reply
        • I’m not 100% certain, but I don’t think they would have the anti-microbial properties that actual wood has. We are putting in butcher block countertops, so I was reading a lot about this same topic. There was some amount of argument, but many people were able to back up with research that staining, sealing, or otherwise finishing the countertop would prevent the bacteria from absorbing into the wood where they are killed by some enzyme. I would think the glue would do the same thing for the wood fibers in those boards.

          Reply
          • I continue to ponder this. The Epicurean website says their boards are bacteria resistant. I wonder if they have been tested for this and for any health effects from the resin (I’m not sold that just because something is called “food safe” that it actually is, as in so many plastics used in food packaging these days). Would be nice if some reliable, unbiased studies were posted on their website or elsewhere.

  20. This makes such good sense! All the research shows that biofilms (the stuff harboring the bacteria) has an affinity to PVC or plastics. All of us can remember our mom’s using wooden cutting boards & simply wiping them down with no one getting sick.

    Reply
  21. At a craft show I bought cutting boards made out of Corian……..like the counter tops. I don’t know what Corian is made out of but I would think chemicals would be involved. I used them for awhile but also bought some made of bamboo. When we had a garage sale and moved I randomly decided to get rid of the Corian ones. I think they are harder on my knives and I just like the feel of cutting on bamboo instead of such a hard surface. Now I also wonder how healthy the Corian ones were……….probably not. Glad they are gone. Since then I have read that bamboo is naturally anti-fungal. That even when growing it pesticides are not necessary because bugs don’t like it. It seems like it is more durable than wood to me. My bamboo boards are holding up and lasting longer than when I had some wooden ones in the past. So I am sold on the bamboo for many reasons.

    Reply
  22. I bought a bamboo cutting board a couple of years ago, and it has seen heavy duty work, since we chop up chicken backs for our dogs’ breakfast about 5 days a week. I was just noticing that you can barely see any scratches, much less gouges, in the surface! it is one of the best cutting boards I have owned and would recommend one to anyone. I do have a glass one I use for mostly cheese and presentations. I like the bamboo better overall.

    Reply
  23. Maple wood…. excellent! have had a huge kitchen island with a 2″ thick maple top
    for over 40 years… It is beautiful, easy to care for and the best material for your
    knives. wood is very forgiving and “heals” nicely… I just wash w soap/water/rinse then
    use mineral oil several times a year and let it soak in overnight (don’t gasp) for a beauty treatment… mineral oil also works beautifully on slate, etc. just wipe any excess of
    w paper towels and you’re good to go ..

    As for logging: we have many acquaintances who are loggers…. I defend them and hate the propaganda out there against them. trees die… culling and maintaining forests is a science
    to get the best, healthiest trees growing. Don’t be so quick to fall for false information. always consider the source ! Wood: another gift from God

    Reply
  24. We have two bamboo boards we use and have had them for at least 6 or 7 years. One is long and narrow and the other is a square shape. I love them and find that they are what I use for most of my cutting needs. We also have glass cutting boards which we only use for slicing meats (mostly because it’s easier to cut them on glass). We make sure to sharpen our knives when we are finished. I ditched my plastic cutting boards years ago, as I have many other plastic pieces from my kitchen. For storage I use glass containers, plates and bowls from our cupboards, and also wax paper or tin foil. I have completely stopped storing any of my produce in plastic in the produce drawers in my refrigerator. Instead, I take them out of the plastic and put down a roll of wax paper on the bottom of the drawer.

    Reply
  25. I assume mineral oil is not desirable on cutting boards since it’s petroleum-based, and I had heard that olive oil goes rancid. I appreciate the tips above to use antimicrobial, antifungal coconut oil on cutting boards. Hadn’t thought of that. I just got a big bin of expeller pressed CO for cooking and some raw centrifuged for smoothies from Wilderness Family Naturals — would either work equally well for cutting board purposes? Any thoughts out there?

    Reply
  26. Pingback: Mini Bamboo Cheese Board

  27. Plastic cutting board are actually dangerous , there is no way to sanitize them properly .if you chop meat or any protein you are actually injecting the protein in the plastic , yes all these nasty black mark and the health dept for years has been teaching the wrong way to handle food , whemn you cut open these black mark weeks , months afterward you are releasing that rotten food into your fresh food , my recomendations do not buy and throw away these plastic cuttung board . in 44 years in the industry I

    Reply
  28. Pingback: Just Local Foods » Farm to Fork

  29. Sandy Tuttle Williams via Facebook October 20, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    I use a glass one. The only bummer is that it seems to dull my knives more quickly but that way you don’t have to worry about the other issues.

    Reply
  30. Edward Cantrell via Facebook October 20, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    wooden board has been in use for hundred years and plastic board is new thing…. probably not more than hundred years though…

    Reply
  31. Christal Brock via Facebook October 20, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    Ha! I knew it! Loved my wooden cutting board, then finally found a bamboo one for a great price. Btw, cutting on glass will dull your knives

    Reply
  32. I used to use plastic boards thinking they could be sanitized in the dishwasher. Then I learned this about wooden ones being anti microbial naturally, so I immediately switched. I thought it was the oil in the wood, like how essential oils kill germs.

    Reply
  33. Tonia Townsend via Facebook October 20, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    I use a glass plate.. I have had several cutting boards but always think they are just space waster and get a dinner plate to cut on..

    Reply
  34. Hmmm….then this would probably be true for bacteria on plastic toys, such as public daycare at the gym or at church????? Which is why I have not placed my kids in one for many many years. Especially since my oldest son had a horrible immune system/allergies/asthma and could catch something nasty really easily. #i’mparanoid

    Reply
  35. Iris Eastburn via Facebook February 26, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Interesting maybe I need to get a wood one? Kolbrun Thorsteinsson Hoffritz Helen White Colleen Eastburn Megan Eastburn

    Reply
  36. Sarah Heckemeyer Bixby via Facebook February 26, 2014 at 10:48 am

    I want to forward this to Laurie on Shark Tank. She turned down a man who made beautiful wooden cutting boards and supplies in Maine. She said she was nervous about wood because the big thing was “anti-bacterial”, and basically plastic cutting boards. I was so disgusted! Now I want to invest in him!

    Reply
  37. Laura Genton via Facebook February 26, 2014 at 10:48 am

    I grew up in a house with just one huge wooden cutting board that slid out from our lower cabinets. People were horrified that we used it for *every*thing and just cleaned it with a warm wet rag, lol. somehow, none of us died :)

    Reply
  38. MaryPat Hofer via Facebook February 26, 2014 at 10:49 am

    What do you think about buying wood kitchen items from thrift stores, estate sales, etc? It sounds like it’s ok then?

    Reply
  39. Rebecca Gill via Facebook February 26, 2014 at 10:52 am

    What’s found in nature surely must have natural protections. Man-made petroleum based products cannot possibly compete. Changing out my entire kitchen. Using wooden spoons already. . .

    Reply
  40. Carole Jeffus Goodwin via Facebook February 26, 2014 at 11:45 am

    I use a glass cutting board and turn it over from item to item then wash before starting anything else.

    Reply
  41. Ruth Kritzer via Facebook February 26, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    This has long been known – haven’t used plastic cutting boards for ages. Wood also feels, cleans and ages a lot nicer.

    Reply
  42. Ruth Morgan via Facebook February 26, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I have a difficult time cutting on hard surfaces and prefer wood. Both my mother & grandmother used wood cutting boards and nobody ever got sick. There’s this great little thing called soap & water, and if used after cutting, will prevent contamination. Nobody has ever gotten sick from food I’ve prepared either. Also, my brother-in-law who was a chef, told me that wood cutting boards are easier on our knives.

    Reply
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