How to know when it’s time to swap out your cutting board for a new one.
Plastic cutting boards are a boon in the home kitchen. They are cheap to buy and easy to replace. They can be cleaned by hand or in the dishwasher. Soaked, they won’t warp like wooden boards do. And, unlike their glass counterparts, they don’t dull your knives all that much.
We love cutting boards made out of plastic because they offer the right balance of the three “-ilities” of a good cutting surface: affordability, durability and utility. But they don’t last forever and eventually need to be replaced.
Use one plastic cutting board for meat and another for fruits and vegetables. Replace your cutting boards once a year; your knives cut into them and grooves form that harbor harmful bacteria.
In the restaurant kitchen, they use color-coded cutting boards to make equipment identification hassle-free during service: red is for raw meat, yellow for raw poultry, blue for raw fish; brown for cooked meat, green for produce, and white for dairy products.
Although this is unnecessarily sophisticated of a system for the home kitchen, color coding is a practice that family cooks like you and I can steal from chefs as we should.
At a minimum, I recommend using a red cutting board for meat, poultry and fish; a green cutting board for fruits and vegetables; and a white cutting board for cheeses and loaves of bread.
By doing so, we can minimize the risk of cross-contamination—the transfer of bacteria from one food item to another that can make us and our families fall ill with food poisoning. (Which, by the way, is more common than you think!).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans, or one in six in the country, contract food poisoning each year. Of them, 128,000 end up in the hospital and 3,000 die.
Minimizing the risk of cross-contamination is particularly important when you are handling raw meats, which act as breeding grounds for Salmonella, E. coli, Yersinia, and others; and raw produce, which can contain just as many pathogens.
When Your Plastic Cutting Board Gets Worn, Replace It
Plastic cutting boards—which are made from a polymer called polyethylene, the most common type of plastic used today—have the tendency to wear out over time.
Sooner rather than later, the wear and tear on your plastic board starts to show. The result is an unsightly and unsanitary cutting surface that, between cuts, juices, and cleaning agents, is left to look quite tattered.
If you cook for your family every day, we estimate that your plastic cutting boards will wear out in about a year. It’s relatively easy to recognize when this is the case: Deep grooves form, where pigments and harmful bacteria from your food accumulate.
Some DIY-ers sand their plastic cutting boards to extend their shelf life. We respect the handiwork, but recommend channeling it elsewhere.
In the end, a set of color-coded plastic boards costs no more than ten to fifteen dollars and is well worth the money when compared to the cost and risks of food-borne illness.
How to Make the Most of Your Cutting Boards
By keeping your knives sharp and using proper cutting technique, you will damage your plastic cutting board less and extend its life. Another benefit is that you will protect your fingers from cuts and keep your food as safe as possible from pathogenic bacteria.
Hone your knives after every use to keep the blade sharp.
Keep your knives sharp. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but hear me out: A sharp blade cuts through food with minimal effort. A dull blade requires you to use your weight to cut, which tires you faster and wears out your cutting board sooner.
I keep my knives in mint condition by honing them after each and every use. Do this, and you will rarely have to go through the hassle of having to sharpen them (which removes metal from the blade).
Hold your knife properly to cut with maximum safety and minimum effort.
Lay your cutting board on a moist towel to prevent slippage. Hold your knife with a steady grip, by holding the handle behind the bolster or with your thumb and forefinger resting in front of it.
Curl the fingers underneath your guiding hand, with the nails facing the cutting surface in what resembles a claw. Hold the knife against the claw and move your guiding hand along the cutting board.
This technique, unbeknownst to many, has two advantages.
First, it allows you to cut safely without worrying about the fingers on either hand. Second, it helps you to cut even the hardest foods with precision and ease (provided you keep your knives sharp), which extends the life of your cutting surface.
Clean your hands, utensils, and cutting board after every use.
Some time ago, the folks at Cook’s Illustrated magazine contaminated a bunch of cutting boards with Salmonella. Then, they washed them with hot soapy water, bleach solution, and undiluted vinegar and sent them to a lab.
All methods, the laboratory results showed, were equally effective in reducing bacteria to less than harmful levels. So, despite lore to the contrary, you only need to clean your cutting board by hand with hot water and dishwashing detergent.
It is important that you do this immediately and dry the cutting board thoroughly after each use. Do not allow food residue to dry on the cutting surface. After washing, pat your cutting board dry with a paper towel, then leave it to air-dry on the dish rack.
To reduce the risk of cross-contamination, do not handle the faucet or the handle of your sink with dirty hands. Clean all utensils that have come in contact with raw food and wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
If, for one reason or another, sanitization is a must, wipe your cutting board with a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach per 1 quart water or ammonia cleaner, rinse thoroughly, and dry properly.