Plastic or wooden cutting boards? 12 to the test of bacterial contamination

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Better to choose plastic or wooden cutting boards to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination in the kitchen? The question is answered by the test conducted by K-Tipp, a Swiss consumer magazine.

12 plastic and wooden cutting boards to the test

Technicians simulated household use of 12 plastic and wooden cutting boards. The 15-day tests evaluated and compared each feature essential to the intended use. Robustness, easy handling, odor and stain resistance, and hygienic safety.

The hygienic safety test was conducted by shredding raw meat (chicken and pork) on the cutting board, washing it each time according to common practices in our homes: hot water, soap and sponge. And finally measuring its status and bacterial load.

Bacterial contamination

The hygiene of utensils and food contact materials (MOCAs) used in the kitchen, such as cutting boards, is one of the crucial aspects in food safety. Especially in handling raw meat, which is often contaminated with two pathogenic bacteria:

salmonella, which is widespread on poultry meat (chicken and turkey), followed by pork, causes gastroenteritis in humans, which in very young children, the elderly, and immunocompromised persons can even take a more severe, systemic course, as we have seen,

campylobacter, the most prevalent pathogen in Europe, is prevalent on poultry meat. The toxin infection it causes in humans can be particularly dangerous for infants and preschoolers, as reported in the previous article.

Both pathogens are deactivated by cooking the food at 70 °C. But they can survive on utensils and contaminate other foods.

The other features tested

The wear resistance-strength-was summarized by analyzing at the end of the test the condition of the cutting boards subjected to the work of a 1 kg heavy blade (a simulation of the manual work of chopping food).

The test for permeability to natural (very persistent) food dyes was conducted using beets, diced and left on cutting boards for an hour to soak the surface. As with the raw meat test, washing with hot water, detergent, and sponge followed.

Odor persistence, on the other hand, was conducted by cutting 1 kg of onions and leaving them for one hour on the surface of the cutting boards, finally washed as described above.

Finally, the handling evaluation took into account the ergonomics of the cutting boards (the presence of holes to grip them) and safety of use (sharp corners, etc.).

The best in the test

The most popular model is a bamboo ‘Kitchen and Table’ cutting board sold by Migros. Technicians called it the sturdiest and most practical product, thanks to its non-slip rubber edges and grooves for collecting liquids that would otherwise be destined to soil the work surface.

Bamboo is becoming increasingly popular in food contact objects (MOCAs). The Indian government has dedicated special security guidelines to this material, as we have reported.

Ikea’s plastic and wood cutting boards.

The runner-up is a chopping board from Ikea (Proppmätt) made of beech wood, which is also available in Italy: at the end of the test, it was the product with the lowest number of bacteria.

In contrast, on another Ikea cutting board, this time made of plastic (Legitim), analysis showed the highest number of germs in the sample.

The disadvantages of plastic

Ikea’s plastic cutting board is no exception. Those (plastic) from Manor, Spar and Landi were also heavily contaminated with bacteria at the end of the test.

This depends, according to technicians, on the specificity of the material. After two weeks of work, numerous cuts were present on all the plastic cutting boards. Grooves within which food debris and germs settle and are difficult to remove. Therefore, plastic cutting boards should be washed in a dishwasher at high temperature (at least 65 °C) and be replaced frequently.

Another shortcoming is that the plastic is hard and smooth. When people tried to cut meat on it with a fork and knife, the food and utensils slipped off. The softer wood avoids this inconvenience. It also protects the knife blade.

Wood defects

Wooden cutting boards, however, have another flaw. After two weeks of wear and tear and washing with hot water, all the boards curved.

Also bad is dye resistance. Only 3 out of 6 cutting boards remained unscathed in the beet cutting test. No stains, however, on the plastic ones.

In contrast, the permanence of the odor at the end of the onion test did not act as a watershed between wood and plastic. Only the wooden cutting board from Ikea and the plastic cutting board from Migros were found to be odor-free.

Cleaning and maintenance

For ease of operation, it is very useful to choose a cutting board with a hole that allows it to be easily gripped and manipulated. This is also useful for turning the cutting board and maintaining hygiene while cooking.

As mentioned, never place food to be eaten raw in contact with the surface on which raw meat has been cut.

The maintenance of wooden cutting boards

A few tricks in maintenance keep wooden cutting boards efficient and safe.

To protect them from odors, dyes and germs, cutting boards should be cleaned with very hot water immediately after use. In case of strong stains and odors, two options:

Scrub the surface vigorously with a brush–using soap or vinegar–under hot running water in the direction of the veins. Also useful for completely removing any food residue,

Sprinkle the board evenly with salt and rub half a lemon on it. Then rinse with warm water and dry thoroughly.

The durability of wood can be prolonged with regular sanding. Also useful for the purpose is to rub the table with cooking oil, e.g., linseed oil, which is mildly aromatic. In this way, cuts and cracks are filled, reducing the hygienic risk.

Marta Strinati

Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".