wood and plastic cutting boards

I never thought I’d be writing to Cecil (or in this case, the Staff of the Straight Dope) and telling you that you need to change your tune. Prof Dean Cliver at Davis and his colleagues did the experiments, and observed that
with wood cutting boards, most bacteria were gone in three minutes and ALL the bacteria were gone in 12 hours;
with plastic cutting boards, there are more bacteria after 12 hours than there were to begin with.
Ask Dr Cliver if you need details, or ask me: I’ll send you a pdf that has enough detail to convince anybody.
The point of this is that the results are pretty much CETERIS PARIBUS, so all of your meant-to-be-helpful advice about keeping stuff clean, or having separate boards for poultry, meat , and veggies, is just confusing; what you needed to tell EVERYBODY is that that they are to walk over to the kitchen, dismantle their plastic cutting boards (so nobody will salvage them from the trash), and then (yes, you guess it!) throw them into the trash!!

Listen up: They did the experiment. It’s done. The results are in. There are no experiments to the contrary. If you don’t believe that one should live by the data, then turn in your Straight Dope license. These are the ONLY DATA. Do the experiment yourself, like you did with the laundry balls. The bacteria will be dead by morning on the wood boards, and they will be fat and happy on the plastic boards. Nobody washes their cutting boards with bleach or with Ajax or any other crap, nobody. They wipe them off. People think plastic is cleaner because of “better living thru chemistry” thinking. Plastic boards were invented in the seventies; the plastic board expt is now thirty years old. It’s enough already. At least revisit the topic and tell people what experiments have been done and what the results were. Experiments; you know, experiments. Not just helpful advice. Okay? Sorry to be just a little bit annoyed. It wasn’t so easy finding this Straight Dope page, and then when I found it, it was pure aaaarrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhh because you are giving out the same namby pamby bullshit that other people give out: Clean your cutting board; It really doesn’t matter.
Read Cliver’s papers. No kidding, Or just tell me: What would it take to convince you that plastic boards harbor bacteria and they multiply on them? What would it take to convince you that wooden boards dissolve bacteria, including E coli o157? Within three minutes!!! what? What do you want? :smack: :wally

I put my plastic cutting boards into the dishwasher after each use. That gets rid of the bacteria.


Is the bacteria-killing nature of wooden cutting boards hindered at all by a light oil coating, which is needed to keep the boards from drying out and cracking?


is given by exapno mapcase’s post, and it’s pretty good, really.
It’s not as rigorous as Dr Cliver’s writeup in Journal of Food Protection (which is not on the web, because most scholarly journals never make it to the web [the “glossy paper conspiracy”, whereby research that has been paid for by some group in the public interest or even by the Public [you know, the Govt] still is in the hands of the Publisher, who want you to OMG pay for it.]) So it’s real nice that Dr Cliver took the time to write up his findings, in a pretty readable way, and post it for free. Public service by a Public Servant. Hip hip hooray. Seriously.

But, there’s nothing quite like a genuine erudite journal to nail down the specifics, like What if I put the plastic / wood cutting board in a dishwasher? In a microwave? What if I oil it? What if … et seq.

So, I’m no expert, but … the way I read Cliver and colleagues’ research,

  1. oiling the board doesn’t matter much. The wood still dissolves the bacteria. NB I recall the earliest articles I read when I was a grad student in the seventies, and “treating” the wood knocked out its antibiotic properties, and they were referring to varnishing the wood, as I recall. You know, coating it. What a tricky subject! Maybe somebody will write in about what “oils” are out there, like “don’t use linseed oil” (duh) and “use edible oils”.
  2. if your dishwasher is REALLY hot, it’s still not hot enough to sterilize anything, i.e. kill bacteria and other microorganisms. It sure as hell doesn’t kill molds, although it will wash them away from any slick surface. Some dishwashers even have a UV lamp, and that will pretty much sterilize glasses and dishes. But hot water and UV lamps don’t do much to the inner recesses of a knife cut. It only takes a few cells of o157 to start an infection.

You really need an autoclave. I’d like to see what a plastic cutting board looks like after it’s been in the autoclave!

So what you really need is a wooden cutting board. They got’em at Target for less than twenty bucks for a pretty nice one, good sized too.


the full URL where you can read about plastic / wood cutting boards’ antimicrobial properties


can’t seem to get this to read the whole thing in

and note that it’s http:// with no www before “faculty”

In Hawk’s original report, Hawk mentioned the rubber cutting board and the difficulty of finding an example on the web. Well, here you go…

The Mat King Top Choice Rubber Reversible Cutting Boards

Asiana West Professional Rubber Cutting Boards

Kerekes Baking and Restaurant Equipment

OK, so it’s just one manufacturer with choices of retailers.

And, of course, I make no claims as to whether rubber cutting services are more or less germ friendly of foely to wooden boards.


Maybe lab workers should just stop using petri dishes and just use chicken legs.

A Gravy Groove can be added at an up charge of $44.00 per board.

— from the Mat King’s website.

I’m sure glad Cecil started this Straight Dope thing back when I was a kid. But this is the first time I ever ran across something quite as perfect as

the Gravy Groove
I’m glad I wrote in about this cutting board thing, otherwise I’d never have known about the Gravy Groove

richard808, your urls weren’t messed up. The board abbreviates them so as to prevent sidescrolling, but you’ll notice that if you click it, it still goes to the right place.

It is not clear to me whether you’ve read the material found at http://faculty.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/faculty/docliver/Research/cuttingboard.htm, or if you’ve been reading something else. You state that “with wood cutting boards, most bacteria were gone in three minutes and ALL the bacteria were gone in 12 hours”, yet I am unable to find that information anywhere in that site. Instead, there are the more generalized comments of “We soon found that disease bacteria such as these were not recoverable from wooden surfaces in a short time after they were applied, unless very large numbers were used.” and “Although the bacteria that have disappeared from the wood surfaces are found alive inside the wood for some time after application, they evidently do not multiply, and they gradually die.” I will, however, take you up on your offer so please send the pdf for me to review at cyberspider@aol.com.

In your comment, “Listen up: They did the experiment. It’s done. The results are in. There are no experiments to the contrary. If you don’t believe that one should live by the data, then turn in your Straight Dope license. These are the ONLY DATA.” However, in the link that you provided, there is no data, only an abstract.

In more rapid-fire mode then, let’s deal with the following:
“The bacteria will be dead by morning on the wood boards, and they will be fat and happy on the plastic boards.”
Whether or not this is true is besides the point. The problem is that most people won’t wait until morning to finish cooking dinner. We call that “breakfast.” So what are you going to do? How are you going to cook dinner if you can only use that cutting board, effectively, only once before putting it up for the night?

“Nobody washes their cutting boards with bleach or with Ajax or any other crap, nobody. They wipe them off.”
I beg your pardon, but I, for one, do. I have a rubber cutting board, and I find hot water with liquid detergent to be just fine. In fact, of all the cooks that I know, I know NO ONE who simply wipes off their cutting boards. (With the exception of Jason, who thinks fine dining is a hot Pop Tart with ice cream, but that’s not cooking with chicken, either.) Furthermore, I think you’re asking a lot of a wooden cutting board to sanitize itself by merely wiping it off. The mere thought of the build-up of chicken fat is sickening.

“People think plastic is cleaner because of “better living thru chemistry” thinking.”
Not being able to speak for all others, I think some people find plastic preferable because 1) it’s easier to maintain (no oiling, drying, etc.), 2) it’s lighter, and 3) it’s cheaper. And, if you’ll look at the original posting again, the question was which was BETTER. Still, I don’t disagree with Dr. Cliver; in fact, in the original posting, I say, "For a while, a plastic cutting board was considered superior to wood because the grooves cut into a wooden board by the knife harbored bacteria that would infect the next food that was cut. Plastic cutting boards, it was argued, were harder than wood, developed fewer grooves, and were thus less likely to pass along harmful microbes. The only problem is that studies showed that wood cutting boards harbored fewer bacteria, not the other way around. The most plausible explanations for this are:

  1. Plastic is not water-absorbent, so it stays wet longer, which means longer bacterial survival.
  2. Wood is water-absorbent, so it dries faster, which means shorter bacterial survival.
  3. Wood contains natural antibiotic agents that retard bacterial growth."

Also, with no disrepect to Dr. Cliver, I’m a little concerned about any analysis that can not be reproduced by other scientists, but is instead validated by children. (“Although some established scientific laboratories say their results differ from ours, we have received multiple communications from school children who have done science projects that have reached essentially the same conclusions that we did.”)

And, moriah, yes, the links you provided led to sites that have the rubber cutting boards that are similar to what I use. They’re a little pricey, but they are the commercial-grade kind that I grew up with as a child in my parents’ restaurant, the kind that I used when I worked in the restaurant’s kitchen, and the kind that I use at home now that I’ve graduated college and work in a laboratory. I hope you’ll give it a try sometime; I like to give them as gifts, due to the number of friends I have that cook and their rare nature. Still, it’s the last cutting board anyone buys. (With or without the Gravy Grooves, which have been a feature of cutting boards for years.)

Cessandra - Is your “cake or death” a reference to Eddie Izzard’s comedy routine?

This contradicts the plain words that I quoted from Cliver’s online paper. Do you have something from the original paper to back this up? If not, what is your authority for it?

A scholarly article was sent to me as a reprint by Dr Cliver.
It’s in Journal of Food Protection, vol 57, No 1, pp 16-22 from Jan 1994, entitled “Cutting Boards of Plastic and Wood Contaminated Experimentally With Bacteria” by Ak, Cliver, and Kaspar.

Sorry it wasn’t clear to you that the URL you’re quoting, with the schoolkids and all that, was posted by the good Mapcase, and a service it was to do so. Mapcase found something by Cliver that was above all readable and entertaining; it wasn’t meant to be rigorous.

In the event that you can’t get hold of the Journal of Food Protection :slight_smile: which has changed it’s name BTW, I’ll be sending you a pdf of the article, totally in violation of the rights reserved by the J of Food Prot as a card carrying member of the Glossy Paper Conspiracy. Hell, I may even go ahead and put’er on the web tomorrow at www.frogojt.com/cuttingboardscliver.pdf .I wonder what they do to you when you post ten year old journal articles on the web? Maybe I should wait another seven years when their copyright runs out. On the other hand, some pretty convincing data was published by Kampelmacher (sp?) long time ago, back in the seventies, but as I recall, it was in German.

I’ll probably go ahead right now and email that pdf as an attachment to cyberspider@aol.com, though.

Right you are, you use liquid detergent and hot water.

No bleach, no Ajax, no other crap. Like I said! Bleach and Ajax, for example, do kill (most, or a lot of) bacteria. But most people don’t routinely do that.

Of course one washes the damn thing, silly. With nice hot water. what do you think we are, savages? It’s just that the hot water and the detergent don’t kill bacteria, and a wooden board kills’em dead. See? or rather, not see, they’re GONE. dissolved. went to bacteria heaven.

Such a long quote I made here, sorry; I couldn’t find a way to cut it down and preserve the sense of it.

It’s simple: Wood dissolves the bacteria. Even Cliver doesn’t know what it is in wood that makes the bacteria go away. Pixie dust. Lignin. who knows? Going going gone. The bacteria aren’t retarded, they’re dead.

Here, let me stop parrying with the defense you’re throwing up here, and send you the pdf of the article post haste.

yeah, Dr Cliver did say that, in the not-so-scholarly article; He Totally Did Say That, as Satchel the Dog likes to say in Get Fuzzy comics.

You want clean, you can have clean. Clean is good. Nice clean bacteria. Me, I like my bacteria dead. Wood for me. (But really, I clean the hell outta those two boards of mine; and truth be told, I haven’t personally cut up a piece of raw chicken in years. Now that I think about it, I haven’t even cooked a chicken in years; the BBQ chickens from Costco and Albertson’s and the Santa Fe Market here in Point Richmond CA don’t cost a whole lot more than a chicken, really, and they cook’em better than I can. And the raw beef and hamburger I generally put a piece of butcher paper in there somewhere, and let the butcher do most of the work anyway. You know, pretty much pre-cut these days. But for the cooked stuff, a nice wooden board is the way to go, for me; but I’ll give one of those rubber jobs a try. They sound like they might have a very pleasant feel under the knife. Thanks.)

I wish there were some newer articles following-up and reviewing Cliver’s original paper. As a writer who has spent many, many hours deep in the bowels of a medical library doing research I can testify as to how frustrating it is to come across a single article that makes a major statement and find nothing more about it.

But also as a writer, I ask you, richard808, not to repost that .pdf on the net. Writers - or the publications they assign their rights to - have complete moral control over the work that they do. It is up to them and them alone to decide whether to place their work into a venue where it may be copied and rebroadcast by the public. I know there is a huge debate in the writing community over whether doing so would be good for writers or not, but one thing just about all sides have agreed upon is that it is the writer’s and no one else’s right to make this decision.

And as a technical point, copyright is not 17 years: that is patent production. Copyright is currently 95 years.

Am I the only one here who wonders what the heck it means for wood to “dissolve” bacteria? And how, exactly, does this imply that I won’t get sick from them? The closest I can think of to “dissolving” bacteria would be to just disperse them in some medium, which wouldn’t harm them one bit.

there are other articles. But hey, what else is there to say? Wood good, plastic bad. Here’s the data …

Cliver’s work is really just confirming some earlier work anyway, by the Kampelmacher dude. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. People by and large don’t believe wood eliminates the bacteria, and you’re not gonna change their minds. Just my opinion there. Like the guy told Benjamin in The Graduate: “Plastics”.

I can dig that. As a writer, you might find that frustrating. A well-stuffed set of references is always a reassurance that you’re in good company and not going out on any kind of a limb or anything.

As a chef, a public health official, or a normally hungry person who eats, though, I wouldn’t get too concerned about outpapering, overpapering, or otherwisepapering anybody about this, I’d just put the ol’ plastickeroony on the shelf, permanently. You can always do your literature search later.
There are other articles. Dr Cliver published some more stuff in 2000, I think. But hey, what else is there to say? Wood good, plastic bad. Here’s the data …
Cliver’s work is really just confirming some earlier work anyway, by the Kampelmacher dude. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. People by and large don’t believe wood eliminates the bacteria, and you’re not gonna change their minds. Just my opinion here; but people like to hold on to their beliefs, and don’t like to be confused by any counterintuitive observations, like this one about the cutting boards.

And like the older-generation dude told young Benjamin in The Graduate: “Just one word: Plastics”.:cool: