How to Clean and Sanitize Your Cutting Boards Naturally

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A cutting board gets heavy use in a cook's kitchen -- that is, a kitchen used to prepare most of the household meals from scratch. Beautiful hardwood is easier on fine knives than plastic, but plastic can be more aggressively cleaned. Glass, marble, bamboo, Corian and other flat slabs used for slicing, dicing and chopping are harder or more slippery to work with, fall apart, scratch or splinter more easily. Your best bet is going to be a wood board for fruits, vegetables and breads, a plastic board for cutting up chicken, red meat, fish and other animal products and a good cleaning protocol to kill any germs before they can reach the dinner table.

Hardwood Care and Cleaning

The harder the wood, the better the cutting board -- maple and walnut are tough and more durable than softer woods due to their finer grain. Harder woods also repel bacteria more effectively than soft woods -- the bacteria can't work down into the close grain. But the hardest woods are hardest on your knife blades as well, and all wood needs conditioning to look and perform at its best. Clean a wood board with hot water, dish soap and a sponge, flooding it with water to wash away bacteria. Then wipe the board down with a clean cloth soaked in white vinegar to disinfect it. Vinegar may not banish all the bacteria, so you could sanitize more vigorously with a quaternary ammonium compound -- a strong cleanser with positively charged ions that attach to negatively charged substances such as bacteria. Deodorize a smelly board by rubbing it all over with half a cut lemon or sprinkling the board with a cup of baking soda, followed by a cup of white vinegar. Wipe the board dry to prevent the grain from swelling with water, leading to splits and cracks. Keep it in good condition by rubbing food-grade mineral oil or natural coconut oil into the wood as a moisture and bacteria barrier that imparts a bit of shine.

Tip

  • Vegetable oils are not suitable for cutting board conditioning because they will turn rancid and ruin the wood.

Plastic Performance

Plastic isn't as aesthetically pleasing as wood, but it does offer some practical advantages. It's much simpler to wash and wipe down a plastic board after cutting up a chicken or a fish filet. You can wash and disinfect the board the same as a wood board -- regular wipe-downs with a sponge soaked in equal parts white vinegar and water will clean and disinfect it -- but you can usually also pop it into the microwave to "cook" any nasty organisms to death and sterilize the board. (A hardwood board can go into the microwave very briefly, but you have to keep it short and stay alert that you don't ignite the thing.) Plastic will go happily into the dishwasher, where Staphylococcus and other unsavory bacteria fear to tread. Your knives will not fare so well with most plastic boards -- softer plastic "jelly boards" are a bit more forgiving than hard plastic. But any board -- wood, hard or soft plastic -- will develop scratches where bacteria can hide and multiply. For plastic, disinfect the board with a solution of 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water -- you shouldn't use this on a wooden board.

Tip

  • Chlorine solutions must be made fresh weekly -- they lose potency after that -- and should be safely stored in a secure dark place.

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