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