A cutting board can last for many years, even decades, with proper care and maintenance. But even a well-cared-for and cleaned cutting board suffers damage from knife blades over time. Replacing a cutting board that seems "iffy" is always a safe choice, as damaged plastic or wood boards may harbor food-borne bacteria that leads to illness.
Protecting a Wooden Cutting Board
A fresh wood cutting board is a more porous than other cutting board materials such as plastic or acrylic. The best way to ensure you won't need to replace that cutting board anytime soon is to properly treat it before use. Coat it with a food grade oil, such as coconut oil, by rubbing it on in a thin coat in the direction of the grain. Coat the sides, top and back of the board, let it sit for a couple days (store it vertically for maximum air exposure), then repeat the process. Repeat the process again, as many times as needed until the board no longer absorbs the oil. Add more oil as basic maintenance whenever it begins to look worn.
Wood Board Care
Wood cutting boards suffer slices over time. They also can become waterlogged if left in water -- even more so if the board is made of laminated (layered) wood rather than a single piece of wood. Wash a wood cutting board with hot, soapy water after each use, rinsing with clean water. Wipe it dry with paper towels, then air-dry it by placing vertically or nearly vertical so water runs off. Spray vinegar can be used after cutting, then washing, for added cleanliness. Sanitize a board after cutting raw meats by mixing 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water, pouring the solution on top of the board and letting it soak for a few minutes. Rinse thoroughly and dry vertically.
Replace the board when it has chips or deep slices that are difficult to clean, or if the board is swollen from becoming waterlogged. If the board feels grimy, and the grease doesn't seem to clean away, replace the board. It also should be replaced if it becomes warped, as a warped board wobbles while cutting things upon it, creating a safety issue.
Synthetic Board Care
Plastic cutting boards are a little easier to clean than wood boards, as there's no need to oil them or worry about them becoming waterlogged. Plastic, acrylic and other synthetics can be placed in the dishwasher or soaked in dishwater, unlike their wooden counterparts. Use only plastic scrub pads, rather than steel wool, when cleaning to avoid damaging the boards. Most synthetic boards are harder than wood, meaning they'll dull your knifes faster. They also stain over time, and the stains can be difficult to remove.
It's time to replace a synthetic board when it suffers deep cuts and scratches or has food odors that don't seem to go away even after washing -- the odors indicate food matter has been absorbed into the board. Keep synthetic boards away from hot stove burners, as the heat may burn, melt or warp the board. Like warped wooden boards, a warped synthetic board may wobble, meaning it's a potential safety hazard while cutting and should be discarded.
Both wood and synthetic cutting boards are prone to juices and organic matter from cut foods seeping into the board once the board suffers slices or cuts. Using one cutting board for meat and fish and another for fruits, vegetables and cheese helps avoid cross contamination. In other words, those raw chicken juices might get onto the apples you slice afterward if using the same board, even if you've cleaned the board. Foods you eat raw, such as apples or tomato slices, aren't going to the extreme heat of cooking, which might kill off potential bacteria left from raw meats. Using separate cutting boards for meats and foods you eat raw eliminates such concerns.
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