Monday, February 27, 2012

If you do one thing this week...

Throw out your cutting boards and buy new ones - assuming you've had them for some time.

Three of them to be exact. One for chicken, One for beef, pork, fish and other meat. And one more for fruits and vegetables. And the old saying 'when in doubt, throw it out' certainly holds true for cutting boards. If you suspect that your board has too many deep cracks and cuts and sanitizing is not assured, it's definitely time to replace it.

According to a segment on The Early Show, 1 in 7 home kitchens would fail a restaurant health inspection. A big factor for your kitchen to fail is cross-contamination; aka using the same cutting board and knife for vegetables and raw meat.
The big questions is always - which is best; wood or plastic? There has been much discussion and confusion over the years as to which type of board is 'safer' or less likely to provide a breeding ground for bacteria. Although some are easier to clean, I feel that any board, if not used and cleaned properly, can become a vehicle for food contamination.

The following board basics will provide an overview of pros and cons of board types. What type you choose will depend of course, on personal preference.

Corian Boards: Made by the Dupont Company, these boards are very easy to clean, and are available in various sizes and in a myriad of colors. They are non-porous, which makes them more resistant to bacterial growth, and they will not easily stain.

Over time, these boards will suffer marks or cuts, but these can be repaired. Some colors can fade in direct sunlight, and they cannot be used as a trivet, as heat can damage the surface.

Plastic Cutting Boards: Generally, plastic boards are the most affordable and can be found in various colors, hard or flexible, thick or thin. The flexible ones are terrific for food transfer and are easy to store. They will not last as long as thicker boards, as sharp knives will eventually cut through the thin material. Hard plastic boards are extremely durable and can also double as trivets.

Plastic boards are generally considered the 'safest' as they are the easiest to clean and sanitize, and the smaller ones can be placed in the dishwasher.

Tempered Glass Boards: Glass boards are very durable, resistant to heat, and are the most sanitary and easy to clean.

However, glass boards are the hardest on knife edges, and the sound produced by slicing on these boards, can be very aggravating. They are mostly heavier than other boards, but are great for protecting your counter from hot pots.

Wooden Boards: Wooden boards were usually made of maple hardwoods. Today, other woods and patterns are used, and bamboo, which is actually a grass, has become very popular due to its hardness and resistance to bacteria. The best feature of wooden boards, is that they are the easiest on knife edges, and many people prefer the sound of chopping on wood as opposed to other types.

Wooden boards are generally harder to clean, and are not dishwasher friendly. They can suffer cuts and cracks which can harbor bacteria and must be cleaned thoroughly. Wooden boards are very affordable. Bamboo cutting boards are more expensive, but have a longer lifespan.

General Care & Use Guidelines:  
  • Regardless of the type of material, cutting boards should be washed in hot soapy water immediately after use.
  • Sanitize with a mixture of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 quart of water. Let sit several minutes, and then wipe. Let air dry.
  • An alternate way to sanitize is by applying straight white vinegar, or a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 5 parts water. Let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse and pat dry.
  • No matter what type of cutting board you have, wipe it off frequently (or use a bench scraper) to remove excess moisture. Bacteria love moisture, so keep it to a minimum to retard bacterial growth.
  • Avoid slicing foods with the same board and knife that was used earlier for raw food preparation. Change boards and knives to prevent contaminating other foods.
  • After a good cleaning, ensure your boards are dried completely before storing.
  • Use of dishwasher is recommended for plastic boards only, as wooden boards will tend to dry out and crack, reducing their lifespan.
If you're setting up a kitchen for the first time, a good place to start, is to purchase a couple of inexpensive plastic boards and two sizes of wooden boards. You'll soon acquire a preference for which type you like for what foods, and you can expand your stock from there.

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