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Why you shouldn't buy a plastic cutting board

Which cutting board earns a place in your kitchen? Here's what you need to consider.

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When choosing a cutting board, it comes down to what you'll use it for and how easy it is to clean.

Before you go shopping, take a look at the different types of boards. Some are easier to clean, others are best for particular foods and others shouldn't be used for cutting at all. 

Types of boards

Cutting boards are made out of many different materials. Wood, glass and plastic options are what you'll likely see when you're out shopping for a new board. Here's an overview of the different materials, their durability and how easy they are to clean.

Plastic

People tend to think that plastic cutting boards are the easiest to keep clean because you can put them in the dishwasher, unlike wood.

Actually, plastic tends to be the yuckiest kind of cutting board, according to research by the University of Michigan and another study done by the University of Wisconsin. Every time you use one, the knife leaves tiny little cuts in the plastic. This makes a nice home for bacteria to grow in.

So, don't throw a plastic cutting board in the dishwasher, because it may not sanitize all of crevices. Give it a good scrub with hot soap and water to get into the nooks, rinse, then sanitize it with a chlorine-based sanitizer, like bleach diluted in water.

Once there are a lot of noticeable groves in the plastic, though, it's time to chuck it. You may go through a cutting board every few months, which isn't very cost-effective or good for the environment. 

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Wood

There are two types of wooden cutting boards: hardwood and softwood. Hardwoods, like maple, oak or bamboo, don't scar as easily as softwoods and plastics. However, softwoods won't dull your knife as quickly as other woods.

The best pick? Maple or beech wood boards made out of a single block of wood. They don't end up with grooves from your knives where bacteria can grow, making them much safer than plastic. Plus, these woods are easier on your blade than other woods and plastic. 

No matter which wood you choose, the biggest problem with most wooden cutting boards is they absorb juices from meats. This can lead to dangerous bacteria growth. Food safety organizations usually recommend using a nonporous cutting board for raw meat, like plastic. If you do use wood with meat, make sure you sanitize it and dry it thoroughly. If you must use wood, choose bamboo. It's the least porous of the wood family. 

To clean wooden boards, scrub them with warm, soapy water, rinse and sanitize with a quaternary ammonium sanitizer (like Mr. Clean or Simple Green). Stay away from chlorine-based sanitizers because they can be harmful to the wood. When you're done, dry the board with a towel and allow it to fully air-dry before putting it away to prevent warping.

Unlike plastic, wooden cutting boards don't need to be thrown out when they get cuts. Just sand the surface down with a fine-grit sandpaper, wash it, dry it and then rub it down with a bit of mineral oil. It'll be good as new.

Glass

I would advise against using glass cutting boards for one simple reason: They're loud. Every knife cut will echo throughout your kitchen and make your ears ring. 

They are very hard to scar with a knife, but imagine what this hard surface is doing to your knives. Dull city! (Here's our advice on how to sharpen kitchen knives.)

The only thing I really like about glass cutting boards is how easy they are to clean. Put one in the dishwasher and it's fresh and sanitized. 

The best uses for each board

Though all of these boards can handle just about anything, because of the qualities listed above, some boards are better for certain kinds of food than others.

Use each type of board for these tasks:

  • Cut meat on plastic or bamboo to prevent juice absorption.
  • Glass boards are best for kneading dough, rolling out pie crust or cutting out cookies because they're smooth enough that you can use them instead of waxed paper on the counter. Plus, that keeps your countertop cleaner.
  • Use wood for cutting cheeses, veggies, fruits, breads and cooked meats.

Here's what to look for as you shop for your next dishwasher. 

Find out if your refrigerator is keeping your food cold enough