cutting board 

You see both of them at Sur La Table, in friends’ kitchens, even in professional kitchens—both wooden and plastic cutting boards. But which is really better? The debate is as old as good versus evil itself: old, natural ways versus new, improved (and somewhat questionable) technologies. While each home cook has their preference, one actually is better than the other. Do you know which it is?

First, let’s look at the arguments for each cutting board.

The plastic cutting board:

  • Plastic is cheap. Downright cheap. At 5 to 10 bucks a pop, you can buy a plastic cutting board for every season, every food group, hell, every kitchen counter. A small pink one for the meats, a large green one for the veggies—it’s convenient and cheap. That’s why Americans love their plastics.
  • Then there’s the sanitary belief that plastic is dishwasher-safe, so it can be popped in for a clean, sanitary washing (unlike wooden boards, which are not dishwasher-safe).
  • Plastic is non-porous, meaning it doesn’t allow things to soak into it as easily as things made of natural fibers (aka wood). Proponents of plastic believe that since bacteria can’t soak into the cutting board, it’s a safer, more sanitary option.

But in reality, the non-porous surfaces of plastic are only good as long as they are brand-spanking new. Once knives start chopping into plastic cutting boards, they create irreparable nicks, scratches and divots in the board—creating permanent homes for bacteria which can’t be cleaned or washed thoroughly.

Now let’s look at the case for wooden cutting boards:

  • Wooden cutting boards have been the choice for thousands of years, so they appeal to the mentality that loves “tried and true,” old-fashioned and au natural products.
  • Then there’s the pro-porous theory of wood. Since wood is porous, it allows bacteria to settle in, but because of the way the wooden grains align, all bacteria are trapped, suffocate and die. So the bacteria come in, and they die. 
  • Furthermore, you’ll never see the nicks, bumps and scrapes of a plastic cutting board on a wooden one. Their grains prevent any knife cuts on the board, which results in a long-lived cutting board that doesn’t produce dents. It’s easier to clean than a dented and dinged plastic board, and thought to be more sanitary because of it.

So what’s the better choice?

UC Davis Food Laboratory conducted a rare independent study comparing the two cutting boards, and the verdict is out: wooden cutting boards are better. Even the oldest wooden cutting boards still performed as well as new, and they cleaned just as easily. Old plastic boards, on the other hand, were impossible to get all the bacteria out of, and the bacteria persisted on the surface.

Take that; new, cheap technology.

Image adapted from sidewalk flying, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0