Plastic Cutting Boards are NOT Safer than Wood Cutting Boards

Wood Cutting BoardI find that nothing is more beautiful than a well crafted wood cutting board in the kitchen. The smoothness and warm hues of natural grain wood are unbeatable. And with proper care a wood cutting board will last generations!

So why are we ditching our wood cutting boards for plastic?

A few years ago, Curt worked at Williams-Sonoma, a high end gourmet cooking store, when we lived in Seattle, WA. One of the terrific things that took place there was every so often Williams-Sonoma had vendors come in to do various training and demonstrations for the staff and customers… there’s nothing better than well informed sales staff and consumers I say!

One day, Curt came home and asked me, “have you ever seen any studies that show plastic cutting boards were safer regarding food bacteria?”

I thought about it for a minute and said, “well, actually I don’t believe I have. If I had to guess I think wood is better because people have used wood for centuries and it’s never been a problem in the past and I think wood has [essential oils] oils in it that kill the bacteria.”

Well, it turns out that there aren’t any studies proving that plastic is better than wood!

As a matter of fact, wood is superior to plastic in keeping those nasty germs at bay!

I don’t know about you but I far prefer wood cutting boards over plastic – they hold up better, they don’t slide around on the countertop while being used, the chopped up food and juices stays on wood better (lessening the chances of a puddle on the floor), they wash up nice (do not put them in a dishwasher though!), and they’re far prettier.

This is a copy of the report Curt brought home on plastic and wood cutting boards...

Science Report

Agricultural and Consumer Press Service College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

440 Henry Mall Research Division

Madison, WI 53706 University of Wisconsin-Madison

For Immediate Release

January 21, 1993

For More Information: Dean Cliver (608) 263-6937


Despite the prevailing wisdom, bacteria die much more quickly on wood.

For decades now, cooks in homes and restaurants have been urged to use plastic rather than wood cutting boards in the name of food safety.

The fear is that disease causing bacteria – salmonella from raw chicken, for example – will soak into a cutting board and later contaminate other foods cut on the same surface and served uncooked, such as salad ingredients. It’s become an article of faith among “experts” that plastic cutting boards are safer than wood for food preparation because, as the thinking goes, plastic is less hospitable to bacteria.

It seems reasonable, but it just isn’t so, according to two scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Food Research Institute.

Dean O. Cliver and Nese O. Ak, food microbiologists in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, have found that in some as yet unknown way wooden cutting boards kill bacteria that survive well on plastic boards.

“This flies in the face of prevailing wisdom”, says Cliver, “It isn’t what I expected. Our original objectives were to learn about bacterial contamination of wood cutting boards to find a way to decontaminate the wood so it would be almost as safe as plastic. That’s not what happened.”

Cliver is quick to point out that cooks should continue to be careful when they handle foods and wash off cutting surfaces after they cut meat or chicken that may be contaminated with bacteria.

“Wood may be preferable in that small lapses in sanitary practices are not as dangerous on wood as on plastic,” he says. “This doesn’t mean you can be sloppy about safety. It means you can use a wood cutting board if that is the kind you prefer. It certainly isn’t less safe than plastic and appears to be more safe.”

Cliver and Ak began by purposely contaminating wood and plastic boards with bacteria and then trying to recover those bacteria alive from the boards. They also tested boards made from several different species of trees and four types of plastic. They incubated contaminated boards overnight at refrigerator and room temperatures and at high and typical humidity levels. They tested several bacteria – Salmonella, Listeria and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli – known to produce food poisoning.

In 3 minutes bacteria die on wood cutting boards

The results consistently favored the wooden boards, often by a large margin over plastic boards, according to Cliver.

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.

So where did we get the idea that wood isn’t safe?

Cliver and Ak don’t know. They did a literature search and have not found any studies that evaluated the food safety attributes of wood and plastic cutting boards.

Although Ak, a graduate student at the Food Research Institute, will soon return to Turkey, Cliver hopes to continue the studies. A major question now, he says, is why wood is so inhospitable to bacteria. He and Ak have tried unsuccessfully to recover a compound in wood that inhibits bacteria.

The first year of the study was funded by the Food Research Institute with unrestricted food industry gift funds; other funding sources are now being sought. Cliver and Ak will soon submit an article based on the research to a referred scientific journal.


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I think it sucks that the plastic industry has promoted something, plastic, as being superior when they have nothing at all to base it on. I say it’s time to ditch those plastic boards and use wood again!!!

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