Thursday, June 12, 2008

Grab Some Wood, Bub

Edson (AKA e4), over at Green, Blue, Brown sent me a very interesting article recently about the differences between cutting boards made from wood vs. those made from plastic. The article is from Ellen Sandbeck's book Green Housekeeping.

The article states that researchers at the University of Wisconsin had discovered that wooden cutting boards are safer for food preparation than plastic cutting boards. That's right -- safer. A 1993 press release I found online confirmed the article. Here's what the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Research Division at the University of Wisconsin-Madison had to say:

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 ain’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.

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.

Huh. Well slap my ass and call me Sally, it looks like plastic is NOT the 'be all / end all' when it comes to sanitary. Who knew?

I guess can stop using my one plastic cutting board that I've always kept specifically for use with poultry, beef and pork. Turns out my meat likes a little wood.

Thanks for the great article, Edson!


Wendy said...

Makes me very happy that I switched from plastic to using the awesome bamboo cutting board my son gave me for my birthday a few years ago ;).

Now, someone needs to tell those restaurants, because I distinctly remember back when I was a prep person for a fast food place that we used plastic.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Sally, should I slap your ass with a wood or plastic paddle? Probably wood, huh.

Urban (r)Evolutionary said...

hey, that's good news.

i always use wood, just like it better, but now that i know it IS better, too..

yay. :)

MamaBird said...

Sigh. Do you think I can now get rid of my chopped up IKEA cutting boards that have giant gashes in them and end up with piles of colored plastic fuzz after I chop? You know, not a little *leaching* of plastic, a whole *pile*? I know, I know I need to get rid of em. But is wood better or bamboo?

green with a gun said...

Who knew? I knew! But I'm a chef, and have served thousands of people without making any of them sick, whereas the people who come with clipboards and look sternly at the place, they... um... well this piece of paper says... um...

Every time you finish using your chopping board, wash it with hot soapy water. Every time you finish cutting meat on it, wash it with hot soapy water. Once a week for home kitchens, or every day for work kitchens, spray it with something bacteria hate - bleach, vinegar, etc, something alkaline or acidic.

Do the same with your knives, and your benches.

Whether it's plastic or wooden or steel or asbestos or whatever makes very little difference. You just have to clean them.

And wash your hands after going to the toilet. That's one of the most common causes of food poisoning, e. coli from people's poo.

Cleaning things with hot water and soap makes you less likely to get bugs. Oh my God, who'd ever think of that? It's only been known for about two thousand years...

Anonymous said...

Bend over, Sally.

I actually did know this. I remember reading it a while back, so of course it just reinforced my anti-plastic stance.

I wonder about paperboard like what Epicurean and the new Preserve cutting boards are made from. I mean, they were trees at one time, right?

organicneedle said...

Very interesting. My issue is I have a huge woody. I have like a 2 inch thick Boos which does not fit in the dishwasher. I use the small plastic boards for poultry and fish so that I can run them through the dishwasher each time I use them. But now I know having a few small woodies would be useful around the house too.

Hit Pay Dirt said...

I'm SO glad to see someone spreading this news!!! My mom read the study when it came out and told me about it. Since then I have been telling anyone who will listen, especially when people make a claim about how a new version of a product must be better than an old one.

As Michael Pollan would say, tried and tested by our grandmothers is all we really need!

Thanks again for the post!


leslie said...

I had two hardwood wooden boards, recently replaced with bamboo.
The hardwood boards were 20 years old, and they both were dropped within days of one a cosmic "I'm coming with you to cutting board heaven" sort of thing.
They split in a non-regluable (I'm making up words here)fashion, so I thought I'd try bamboo.

The bamboo surface seems far softer than I would like, and I know I'm getting some extra 'fiber' in my salads.
When I replace these bamboo boards, I will go back to hardwood.

I like to have two boards to work with , because inevitably I want to slice bread, and don't want to do it on a damp board. I don't keep a 'special' board for any particular task. The two boards are interchangeable. But I like to have one 'dry' during meal prep.

When you wash wooden boards, make sure you 'wet' both sides to discourage warping.

Geez. Who made me cutting board specialist?

christy b said...

Anyone know about wood for construction projects?

I am on the board for our HOA and the wood on the buildings needs to be replaced.

I had read that pressure treated lumber is no longer being manufactured and has to be disposed of in a much more expensive manner.

However, I know that I am up for a fight when it comes to using a composite. Any resources, facts, experience?

I am also torn about composite - more plastic!!!


christy b said...

First of all I did my best to refrain from the obvious jokes.

Then, I am reading organicneedle's response and thinking, okay someone gave in to the temptation (ie I have a huge woody)!

I do have to disagree though - small woodies are not useful!!

christy b said...

One more thing...

I have been taught that the best thing to clean your wooden cutting boards (any surface really) is fresh lemon. Just cut in half and "scrub" away and then rinse. You can even use a squozen (is that a word?!) lemon.

Something in the acid of the lemon juice kills everything.

CindyW said...

I did NOT know this, but I still used my wood and bamboo cutting board because I hated the feel of knife touching plastic boards.

Now I know. Yipey!!

green with a gun said...

The feel of knives touching plastic is nothing compared to their touching glass.

Yep, glass. I know of a hospital where a concerned health "expert" insisted on glass chopping boards. Informed it was a bad idea, she insisted and threatened dismissal of anyone who refused.

Food was tested, and as predicted by the chefs and cooks and anyone with two brain cells to rub together, turned out to have tiny fragments of glass in it. Yay, that's awesome for the health of the patients...

They went back to plastic ones.