Cooking for Beginners: Cutting Board Safety
Cutting boards are an important tool in the kitchen. They give you a sturdy surface to prepare food on and protect your countertops from whatever cutting tool you’re using. Like any piece of equipment in the kitchen, however, if you use it wrong, you can hurt yourself. Then, there’s also the potential for cross-contamination and foodborne illness concerns. Any of these issues can cause injuries or illness if not properly dealt with. And yet, we still need to use cutting boards if we don’t want to damage our counters or want simple ways to clean up after preparing dinner. So, how can you mitigate these risks?
Stick with Wood or Plastic
When it comes to choosing cutting boards, the material you use can actually be quite important. Most cutting boards are made of two materials — wood and plastic. Both are tough and easily sanitized. This can also describe a third popular material for cutting boards: glass. Glass is also more resistant to stains, odors, and cuts than you’ll sometimes see in the other materials. This has led some to believe that glass is a safer material. That’s just not the case, though, and it’s true for a few reasons.
Glass is hard enough to dull the blade of the knife, and a sharp knife is a safe knife (and a dull one is a dangerous one).
While glass is a hard surface, it’s actually a little too hard. This is an issue for two reasons. First, it’s hard enough to dull the blade of the knife, and as we’ve said in the past, a sharp knife is a safe knife (and a dull one is a dangerous one). Beyond dulling, the hard, slick surface of a glass cutting board also makes your cuts more likely to slip or slide on the cutting surface, increasing your chances of cutting yourself. So, while glass cutting boards may be easier to clean and look pretty, they’re safer as decorations than actually in use.
Securing the Cutting Board
An unsecured cutting board is as dangerous as a glass one, for the same reasons. If your cutting board is moving while you’re making cuts, it’s much more likely to slip or cause an unprecise cut. This can quite easily result in kitchen injuries. Think about it. When you cut on a cutting board, you’re applying pressure, both on the ingredient being cut and the knife you’re cutting it with. If the cutting board isn’t secured or there’s something wet or slick under the cutting board (like cooking oil, water, or juices), this pressure can cause the board to shift as you’re cutting. Suddenly, your hand is where the ingredient was as you press down with the knife.
Place a damp paper towel underneath a cutting board, and voila, secured cutting board!
How can you prevent this? There are a few simple ways. A lot of cutting boards these days come with rubber feet or corners attached to prevent sliding. Many don’t, however. If your cutting board doesn’t have these feet, you can still keep the board safe for use. There are plenty of non-slip mats that can be placed underneath the cutting board. The old school option is perhaps our favorite, though. Just get a kitchen or paper towel and dampen it. You don’t want it dripping, just damp. Then place it underneath the cutting board, and voila, secured cutting board!
Avoiding Cross Contamination
Once you’ve chosen your cutting board and have it secured, it’s important that you don’t accidentally make yourself sick while using it. A big part of this is avoiding cross contamination. When you’re making food, you’ll usually be using a multitude of ingredients, some that need cooking and others that don’t. If you use the same cutting board for every ingredient, you risk contaminating the uncooked food with pathogens from the raw proteins. Even with some ingredients, they may be cooked, but not enough to kill off the foodborne germs that may have transferred from the contaminated cutting board. To avoid this, the United Stated Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) suggests using multiple cutting boards — generally one for raw meats and seafood and one for fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients that won’t need to be cooked.
If you use the same cutting board for every ingredient, you risk contaminating the uncooked food with pathogens from the raw proteins.
Even if you’re separating these foods, you’ll still want to be cognizant of those you’re cooking for. Let’s say one of your guests is allergic to nuts. While you’re preparing for your guests, you make some finger foods by chopping up vegetables and nuts. If you used the same cutting board while prepping everything, though, there’s a chance that the allergens could spread to the vegetables and make your guest sick. If you’re working with raw and cooked ingredients or allergic eaters, it’s wise to use multiple cutting boards to keep everyone safe.
Once you’re done using a cutting board, it’s important you clean it well so that it’s sanitized for your next use. When cleaning a cutting board, how you clean it depends on the type of cutting board you have. Some, like plastic or glass cutting boards, can be put in the dishwasher. Laminated wood cutting boards, though, cannot, since they may crack or split. Solid wood cutting boards can go in the dishwasher, but it’s probably better to treat all wooden cutting boards alike unless you are certain it won’t break in the dishwasher.
It may also be worthwhile to do a real deep clean by using a bleach mixture (one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water) and let the cutting board sit for a few minutes.
The good go-to method for cleaning cutting boards is simple. Wash them down and scrub them with hot, soapy water. This should do the trick most of the time. It may also be worthwhile to do a real deep clean by using a bleach mixture (one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water) and let the cutting board sit for a few minutes. Then, wash it with clear water and allow to dry.
Toss Out Old Cutting Boards
Finally, it’s important to know when to throw away your cutting boards. Obviously, if the board is broken, it’s time for it to go, but it shouldn’t really be getting to that point. If the board is covered in deep cuts or grooves from use and has become excessively worn, you should replace it. The big reason for this is that as the surface of the cutting board becomes more and more worn, it’s harder to clean the cutting board well. Those deep cuts that are in the surface are excellent for bacteria to hide when you clean. While a board with a few grooves isn’t dangerous, when the surface has more cuts than flat surface, it’s time for a new cutting board.
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Cutting boards are extremely useful tools in the kitchen. Unless you have a specially designed countertop, you’ll need one to protect what you have. They can also help you to organize and get mise en place by keeping specific ingredients on a designated cutting board and others on another. As with anything in the kitchen, though, the importance of its use is only valuable if you’re using it safely. Luckily, you now know how!