Not too long ago we talked about cross contamination and the possible harm that can come from unclean surfaces. One of the problems we have, as chefs, is picking the right material for cutting boards, and there are several choices.
Used to be, when I said wood, it would have simply meant Maple, which is the choice wood for cutting boards for years. It fell out of favor for a while, but recent studies have shown that there is actually enzymes in the wood that help to keep bacteria in check.
Now with the popularity of other materials, like Bamboo, we have some new choices. My experience with Bamboo have been favorable, and apart from some glue issues, they have proved to be a little more durable than traditional maple, not showing as many knife marks or gouges.
One advantage of wood is that it typically keeps for long periods of time, and is available with channels that can catch juices from cutting meats and the like. Sizes also tend to be greater, and one of my favorite boards is 24” x 18” and is great for cutting veg and keeping it on the board.
Typically made from tempered glass, they have the appeal that it is a completely non-porous surface, so it stands to reason, will not harbor bacteria. This is true, but the problems lie with food that may slip, and the surface can dull a knife quicker than a wooden board.
I recommend putting some of the non-skid silicon dots on the bottom side of the board. One disadvantage I find is that liquids spill off it very quickly, which is not good, when you are using it on the products you think it is intended for, like chicken, leaving two surfaces to clean.
Ok, lets take this one in two sections, flexible, and rigid. Flexible cutting boards, or mats, are great for quick jobs, and being able to roll them, and slide ingredients into a bowl. They are typically pretty thin, which means you will have to replace them quicker. On the positive side, they are less expensive which means you can afford many, so you can switch them out frequently, but like glass, they tend to allow juice to flow.
Rigid boards are more typical, can be color coded, and offer a good surface at an affordable price. They tend to have a more porous surface which can require deep cleaning, but unlike wood, can be thrown in the dishwasher.
CLEANING AND MAINTENANCE
Cleaning is similar among the boards, and all should be sanitized with a 10% bleach solution, and allowed to air dry. Air drying is an important part, it allows the sanitizing solution time to work, and kill the bacteria. Do not skip the step, especially with potentially hazardous foods.
Never put a wooden board in the dishwasher! It will cause the joints to fail if there are any, and it will cause it to warp at a minimum. Plastic boards ca warp as well over time, so stand them on the bottom if you can.
Another thing you may find, is after a while, the board surface could get marred and even stained. If bleaching does not solve this, you may have to scrape the surface clean with a paint scraper (a new one please!). This is rare in the home kitchen, but something we do about every month in professional kitchens.
These measures work, but with wood boards, you may find it better to sand your board with sandpaper, and finish it with fine grit. Make sure to sanitize your board, and then seal it with mineral oil to help keep moisture from penetrating too deep into the wood.
One quick word, then I will be on to the pretty chart at the bottom here. This is an age old query, how do you keep the board from sliding around? well, there are a few answers, and tricks we use. One that has fallen out of favor is the use of a moist towel underneath a board. This grips both surfaces and keeps it from sliding while you are trying to cut! The fear that this mat can, and most certainly does, harbor bacteria, allowing the possibility of cross contamination.
Recently, there have been a few mats produced that are approved by the NSF that work to hold cutting boards in place. While mostly used in commercial applications, it is one item the home cook could certainly use!
In the end, this is a personal choice and what surface works best for you. I have three, a grooved Maple board for cutting meats, a plastic one I use for cutting raw products, and a bamboo one that I love for veg (and it looks cool!). So pick one that fits your uses and style the best.