Should You Use Different Cutting Boards for Meat and Produce?

Published Categorized as Kitchen
Aksenya /Shutterstock

Cutting boards are must-have kitchen tools for home cooks. They protect your knives and keep your counter clean. They also have another function that’s often neglected: to protect your food from cross-contamination.

Raw red meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread bacteria to other foods. Because of their pores, cutting boards can be a friendly environment to these bacteria (on some occasions, even after they’ve been washed). If you use the same cutting board for meat and eggs as you do for produce and cheeses, you can transfer bacteria to them. This is called cross-contamination.

Should you use different cutting boards for meat and produce? Yes, you should use one cutting board for meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs, and another one for produce, cheeses, and ready-to-eat foods. This way, you can avoid cross-contamination.

Use Color Coding for Plastic Boards

As a home cook, one of your best sources of ideas for good practices and kitchen hygiene can come from professional chefs in restaurants.

Color-coded plastic cutting boards in a professional kitchen
Air Images /Shutterstock Color-coded plastic boards in a professional kitchen

Some restaurants use color-coded plastic cutting boards (also known as polyethylene or poly cutting boards) for meat and produce. This way, it becomes impossible for line cooks between shifts to make mistakes, which reduces the risk of cross-contamination.

If you have a big family and are not the only one at home who does the cooking, using a system with color-coded plastic cutting boards can help you ensure that everyone at home, no matter what age, follows the same practices.

Use Different Shapes for Wood Boards

Other professional chefs and home cooks prefer wood boards.

Cutting boards made from wood are more expensive than plastic boards, but they look good and help preserve your knives (depending on if you use professional knives at home or not, this may or may not matter to you).

If you prefer wood cutting boards, buy cutting boards of different shapes and/or sizes to make it easy for you to distinguish between the board for meat and the one for veggies, fruits, and cheeses.

How to Keep Plastic Cutting Boards Clean

It’s a common belief that plastic cutting boards are safer than wood cutting boards. This is true to an extent, but there’s a catch: over time, plastic boards are more susceptible to scrapes. And scrapes can be a great environment for bacteria to spread.

As long as you follow the best practices for keeping your plastic cutting boards clean, though, that should not really be a problem for you.

Here’s how:

  • Use separate cutting boards for meat and produce;
  • Mix a teaspoon of bleach with a quart of water as a cleaning solution;
  • Use a sponge to spread the solution on the board and scrub any stains away;
  • Let the mixture stand for a minute or two to kill the bacteria;
  • Rinse the board under hot water;
  • Hang it to dry.

Do this every time you prepare a meal to keep a sanitary plastic cutting board.

Keeping Wood Cutting Boards Germ-Free

Cleaning a wooden cutting board
Pixel-Shot /Shutterstock Cleaning a wood cutting board by hand

Always clean wood cutting boards by hand. If you put them in the dishwasher, you risk damaging them beyond repair. Exposing wood to water and heat for prolonged periods of time will eventually warp and crack it.

You can also use my favorite sanitizing solution, diluted bleach, on a wood cutting board.

Here’s how:

  • Use separate cutting boards for meat and produce;
  • Mix a teaspoon of bleach with a quart of water as a cleaning solution;
  • Use a sponge to spread the solution on the board and scrub any stains away;
  • Let the mixture stand for a minute or two to kill the bacteria;
  • Rinse the board under hot water (not too hot);
  • Dry with a kitchen towel;
  • Hang to dry.

Remember: Don’t submerge a wood cutting board in water and don’t put it in the dishwasher as this will warp and crack the wood.

What Other Cleaning Solutions Can I Use?

Mr. Clean

If you’re not a fan of homemade cleaning solutions, use a quaternary ammonium sanitizer like Mr. Clean. Bleach and quaternary ammonium are compounds that help you strip the grease and proteins that could be infected by bacteria.

Diluted white vinegar

Mix 1 part white vinegar with 4 parts water. Spread the solution on your cutting board using a sponge, leave it for a minute or two, then rinse and hang to dry. Keep in mind that this is not as effective as dish soap, diluted bleach, and quaternary ammonium.

Conclusion

When bacteria from an animal product like red meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs gets transferred to produce and ends up on your plate, cross-contamination happens.

To prevent cross-contamination, it’s important that you follow good sanitary practices in your home kitchen; especially when it comes to your cutting board.

Cutting boards can be a friendly environment for bacteria to grow unless you keep them separate and clean.

Here’s how:

  • Use one cutting board for animal products and a separate one for produce;
  • Clean your cutting boards soon after you’re using them every single time;
  • Diluted bleach or quaternary ammonium sanitizers are best to deal with bacteria;
  • As you long as you leave them for a minute or two after applying on your board;
  • Then clean them well with hot water and leave your cutting board to dry.

You now know how to keep your cutting boards clean and safe.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.