The only thing that enjoys travelling more than your retired in-laws or a university student on summer break is the life-threatening bacteria that lurk in your kitchen.
When bacteria travel across different surfaces and utensils, eventually contaminating food, it’s referred to as “cross-contamination”. There are many ways to prevent cross-contamination, one of the most important is the proper selection and maintenance of the surfaces you prepare food on.
To reduce (maybe even eliminate) cross-contamination from cutting boards you need to correctly:
- select your cutting board
- clean and sanitize your board
- know when to retire your board
And of course, you need to have more than one cutting board. Your kitchen should have separate cutting boards for preparing:
- raw meats, poultry, seafood and dairy that require cooking (potentially hazardous foods)
- vegetables, fruits and grains (bread)
- allergen-free meals
Choosing the right cutting boards
There’s nothing like the look and feel of a hardy wood cutting board. We see restaurant ads with chefs in white uniforms carving a roast on a thick maple board and our mouths water. But in reality, most Food Handlers use plastic cutting boards to prepare food.
Some food safety laws restrict commercial kitchens from using wood cutting boards but in instances where they are legal, we still recommend that you forgo wood boards and opt for plastic instead.
Plastic cutting boards
Plastic cutting boards make it easier to prevent cross-contamination. Unlike wood, plastic is not porous so bacteria can’t easily hide in cracks and crevices. Plastic boards are also dishwasher friendly, making the cleaning and sanitizing process extremely manageable. You also have the added bonus of being able to colour code your plastic boards to reserve specific boards for preparing particular foods. For example, red for meat and green for produce.
Wood cutting boards
If you have a chef that insists on wood, or you feel plastic will ruin the look of your carving station at a buffet, be sure to use a block of wood that’s hard, for example, maple or beech.
Although softwoods are less expensive and require less knife sharpening, they put you at a much higher risk of cross-contamination. The boards are more porous, making it easier for bacteria to live and grow.
Bamboo cutting boards
Although bamboo cutting boards offer a harder surface than softwood boards, they're technically not a wood at all. Bamboo boards are not recommended because they splinter easily and will require oiling. Over time, bamboo boards can also become somewhat fuzzy, making them an attractive home for bacteria.
Finally, make sure that the hardwood board is in one solid piece. The seams in boards with multiple pieces can, you guessed it, harbour bacteria.
Glass cutting boards
Glass boards are nonporous and easy to clean. The difficulty with glass is that it’s hard on your knives. Your knives will have a shorter shelf life and require much more sharpening.
If dropped, a glass board can shatter, opening you to the risk of physical contamination of food. No customer wants a glass shard embedded in the meal they’ve ordered.
Cleaning and sanitizing cutting boards
Regular cleaning and sanitizing of your cutting boards and all surfaces are essential for preventing cross-contamination. Many food-borne illness outbreaks occur as a result of poor cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
The difference between cleaning and sanitizing
Cleaning removes all visible dirt, soil, chemical residues and allergens from your cutting boards and work surfaces.
Sanitizing reduces the number of microorganisms to a safe level. Always perform sanitizing after cleaning to ensure its effectiveness.
You can manually sanitize or use a dishwasher to sanitize your cutting boards.
To correctly sanitize your cutting boards and surfaces manually, fully immerse the board in hot water of at least 77°C for a minimum of two minutes. If using a chemical sanitizer, use chlorine at a concentration of 100 mg of chlorine per one litre of water.
A word of caution, use cleaning gloves when manually sanitizing. Gloves will protect your hands from harsh chemicals and scalding hot water.
If using a high-temperature dishwasher to sanitize, ensure the water temperature is at 82°C and the items remain in the machine for at least 10 seconds.
In many jurisdictions, there are specific cleaning and sanitizing requirements, specifically in regards to chemical dilution and water temperature.
The life of your cutting boards
Bacteria love to nestle into score-marks that your knife leaves behind. The deeper these scores, the more chance for bacteria to grow.
Cutting boards should be replaced on a monthly or quarterly basis, but it’s also important to keep an eye out for any obvious signs of wear and tear. Replace the boards when they crack or show signs of deep scores from knives even if it’s before your scheduled replacement date.
Another trick to extending the life of your cutting boards is to sand them gently with fine-grained sandpaper.
One step closer to preventing cross-contamination
The surfaces you prepare food on are only one of the ways cross-contamination can occur in your kitchen. Ensuring your staff are properly trained in food safety and understand the principles of cross-contamination is your best defence in preventing the spread of food-borne illness.