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I recently acquired a chef knife. Alton Brown says I should never use a glass surface to cut, but when I need to cut chicken I don't want to use the wood block because it will be contaminated.

how do I go around this conundrum? What should I use to cut chicken with my new knife?

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You really have an implicit question here: "are wood cutting boards unsafe for cutting meat?" –  Jefromi Apr 23 '13 at 21:14
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Also see: How do you properly clean a cutting board and knife to prevent cross contamination? It's entirely possible to use the same cutting board and avoid cross-contamination. –  Aaronut Apr 24 '13 at 0:31
    
if it's not a duplicate, it's very close : cooking.stackexchange.com/q/618/67 –  Joe Apr 24 '13 at 2:11

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I believe that there are two major options:

  • Wood cutting boards
  • Plastic cutting boards

Either of these will provide a perfectly appropriate surface for you to use your knives against.

From a food safety point of view, both can be excellent, although they have different pros and cons.

There is some evidence that wood cutting boards actually inhibit pathogen growth. They can be sanded down for maintenance, and sanitized with a light bleach solution, but should not be placed into the dishwasher, which may be an inconvenience for your lifestyle. Some larger wood cutting blocks are also a very nice aesthetic statement.

Plastic cutting boards can be very effective, and can be placed in the dishwasher, and are easy to sanitize. Some people are concerned that once they get deep cuts within them, this can harbor pathogens even through cleaning cycles, so they have a limited lifetime. They also are not as pretty as wood, although often far lower in cost.

Most sanitation guides will recommend that you reserve one cutting board for meat (or in a large kitchen, one for meat, one for poultry, and one for fish), and another for vegetables. This is often easiest with color coded cutting boards, which plastic makes easy.

My personal preference is for the very thin, flexible plastic cutting boards. They are inexpensive, easy to move around, dishwasher safe, and can be rolled up to easily dump the product into a pot or container. They may not have an infinite lifespan, but they are very inexpensive.

Since you do not wish to use your good cutting block for chicken, I recommend the thin, flexible style of cutting board--you can use your block for vegetables, bread, and so on.

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It seems strange that facts known about plastic and their friendly ability to leach harmful chemicals into our foods, and thus into our bodies, hasn't truly made an appearance in the world of cooking. I find it very difficult sometimes to find what types of plastics (resin identification codes) are used with a product or if it's even BPA-free. I won't go into the effects of these chemicals in our bodies, but with that being said, I strongly recommend bamboo board. Even if you could care less about the environment, using a bamboo board is safer for you. Maintenance is little to none. If you care about how the board looks, you can apply a wood/bamboo oil to it every now and then. If you're afraid of bacteria, just make sure you wash with soapy warm water and dry it in a place that isn't dark and humid (which shouldn't be difficult) -- better yet, if your sink is near a window, crack open the window and let the UV rays take care of the rest.

Alternatively, you could get a cork cutting board (not at all expensive) designated just for chicken or meats, then, assuming you rinse and dry your knife, you should be good to go.

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The reason such claims haven't really made an appearance in the world of cooking is that they're unsubstantiated - they aren't facts. A lot of plastic is food-safe, at least as long as it's not heated. Sure, don't put your plastic cutting board in the oven, but it's perfectly safe to use for cutting. –  Jefromi Jul 22 '13 at 0:21
    
@Jefromi I'm not chef (I'm definitely new at cooking), but I am very familiar with this stuff. If you think about all the utensils, knives, cutting boards that have plastic parts that come into contact with hot soups, cutting raw meats (it's wet, sometimes even warm or hot), and not to mention storage containers. If BPA wasn't an issue, I highly doubt there would be such a strong push for BPA free products. –  MarkE Jul 22 '13 at 0:27
    
@MarkE If you have any evidence (peer-reviewed articles please) of chemicals from plastic contaiminating food which has been in contact for a few minutes (as opposed to BPA leeching into bottled water after months in the bottle), I would be interested to read them. –  rumtscho Jul 22 '13 at 9:03
    
@rumtscho Sure, the FDA banned BPA baby bottles. Certainly you wouldn't store food in there for months prior to use. But even plastics can still leach carcinogens and endocrine disrupting chemicals: science.time.com/2011/03/08/…. There are peer-reviewed papers that I can dig up, , but I think the baby bottle example is quite clear. –  MarkE Jul 22 '13 at 19:10

For wooden cutting boards, the best way to sterilize it is by using hot water to wash it, which will kill the pathogens. Cleaning the board and the knife does not change the taste of the meat.

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Get cheapest plastic boards for cutting meat. Treat them as a disposable item. As soon as they display signs of wear, replace.

You can also go with two boards: one for cutting vegetables and the like, and the other for meats. Meat has enough germs in it that the little from the board won't change much - it's all about the thermal processing that sanitizes it. Vegetables you eat raw don't provide nearly as good growth environment for the really harmful germs, so you won't risk as much. Only chopping veggies on meat-contaminated board you run at a risk. That way the only problem is steak tartare.

Alternatively, look for some swift and efficient knife honing solution, use the glass board and spend some extra time maintaining the knife.

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Why do you need to throw out plastic chopping boards as soon as they have signs of wear? –  vincebowdren Jun 27 '13 at 9:14
    
@vincebowdren: Because then the notches will start accumulating scraps of meat, which are about impossible to remove completely, and can spoil and contaminate whatever else you put on the board. If you are patient enough to scrub them with a hard brush or sterilize somehow, you can keep them clean, but the cheapest boards cost around $1 and would last around a month of standard use, so IMHO it's just not worth the effort - treat them not as equipment but as a consumable. –  SF. Jun 27 '13 at 17:54
    
Is there any research to show that contaminated plastic boards do spoil whatever else you place on the board, and that it's not possible to simply wash them like anything else? –  vincebowdren Jun 27 '13 at 18:11
    
@vincebowdren: I don't know - but can you give me any hint what gives the dark color to notches of old, worn plastic boards? (and they are very resilient against getting them back to original coloration too...) –  SF. Jun 27 '13 at 20:01

I typically use white nylon cutting boards for all my food prep. They're cheap, you can buy 'em big or small, they won't roll a knife edge, and they work for everything from fruits and vegetables to salad greens to sushi to chicken. When you're done with all that, throw it in the dishwasher with a hot water rinse and it's good to go for the next meal.

I generally save my wood boards for bread, precooked food and presentation. However, there is a reason that a joined, pressed wooden surface is called butcher block. It's perfectly safe to prep meat on wood, provided you ensure three things happen:

  • You keep the board seasoned with mineral oil (oil repels water, so it'll keep bacteria-laden juices out of the wood)
  • You sanitize the board with hot water and bleach or quat sanitizer to prevent cross-contamination
  • You never put the board in the dishwasher or wash it with a detergent (that strips the oils allowing juices to soak in)
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