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4 Reasons Wooden Cutting Boards Are Best

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When I worked catering, we were required by the health department to use plastic cutting boards because “they were more sanitary”. Like so many well-intentioned government agencies, they were wrong. This post explains why wooden cutting boards are better than plastic or glass and why I only use wood cutting boards in my kitchen.

Boos Block cutting board

Wooden Cutting Boards Kill Bacteria

In Plastic and Wooden Cutting Boards by Dean O. Cliver, Ph.D of UC Davis, they noted that “the U.S. Department of Agriculture told us they had no scientific evidence to support their recommendation that plastic, rather than wooden cutting boards be used in home kitchens”.

The problem is that while it may seem like plastic is non-porous and can't absorb liquids, with use the surface becomes knife-scarred. This rough surface is exceptionally difficult to clean, even with bleach or running through the dishwasher. Wood, by contrast, shows the ability to halt the growth of and kill bacteria applied to its surface. Both new and used wooden cutting boards maintain this ability equally well.

Wood Versus Salmonella, Listeria and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli

In a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin (also by Dr. Cliver), they tested bacteria known to produce food poisoning – Salmonella, Listeria and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli. These bacteria were placed on cutting boards made from seven different species of trees and four types of plastic. All the wooden boards consistently outperformed the plastic.

The scientists found that three minutes after contaminating a board that 99.9 percent of the bacteria on wooden boards had died, while none of the bacteria died on plastic. Bacterial numbers actually increased on plastic cutting boards held overnight at room temperature, but the scientists could not recover any bacteria from wooden boards treated the same way.

Dr. Cliver also discusses a case-control study of sporadic salmonellosis in Plastic and Wooden Cutting Boards:

(This study) revealed that those using wooden cutting boards in their home kitchens were less than half as likely as average to contract salmonellosis (odds ratio 0.42, 95% confidence interval 0.22-0.81), those using synthetic (plastic or glass) cutting boards were about twice as likely as average to contract salmonellosis (O.R. 1.99, C.I. 1.03-3.85); and the effect of cleaning the board regularly after preparing meat on it was not statistically significant (O.R. 1.20, C.I. 0.54-2.68).

Basically, wood cutting boards kill bacteria. Wood binds up water, which bacteria needs to grow. Wood also contains antimicrobial compounds. (Given that many other plants can be used as natural antibiotics, this is not entirely surprising.)  Old or new, wood cutting boards add an extra line of defense to your kitchen. Bamboo may have similar properties, but the only test data I was able to find about antimicrobial properties of bamboo focused on bamboo cloth. Read Bamboo – is it Antimicrobial?

Survival of bacteria on wood and plastic particles

The study “Survival of bacteria on wood and plastic particles: Dependence on wood species and environmental conditions” by Annett Milling, Rolf Kehr, Alfred Wulf and Kornelia Smalla compared bacteria growth (E. coli andE. faecium) in seven types sawdust and plastic (polyethylene chips). They found that the sawdust reduced the bacteria count, with pine and oak performing the best. From the abstract: “The presented study shows that pine and oak exhibit substantially better hygienic performance than plastic and indicates an antibacterial effect caused by a combination of the hygroscopic properties of wood and the effect of wood extractives.”

They also discuss earlier studies, including one by Koch et al in 2002 comparing bacterial survival (Bacillus subtilis and Pseudomonas fluorescens) on wood, plastic and stainless steel, noting. “A remarkably great difference in the survival of the bacteria on the surface of the samples was observed between wooden samples and plastic and steel. Oak showed the highest decrease rate in bacterial titre, followed by beech and ash. Bacteria survived longest on plastic followed by stainless steel.”

Proteak cutting board

Other Reasons to Choose Wood Cutting Boards Over Plastic, Glass or Ceramic Cutting Boards

Additionally Wood Cutting boards:

  • Protect your knives and don't dull them like ceramic or glass cutting boards.
  • Are completely biodegradable and renewable. 
  • May support small business.  Check out your local farmers markets and craft fairs for handmade products.

How to Care for Your Wood Cutting Board

Wash boards after each use in warm, soapy water. If you have chunks of food stuck on the surface, use a knife or kitchen scraper to remove most of it before washing.

Do not leave boards to soak! Do not wash wooden cutting boards in the dishwasher. They will absorb water, and this could trash your cutting board. Dry thoroughly before storing. I prefer air drying in the dish rack.

To remove odors, rub down with half a lemon or spritz with some vinegar. This will also help sanitize the board.

Wood cutting boards should be regularly seasoned with a good quality cutting board oil.  You can find them in most hardware stores. Mineral oil is typically used, since it does not go rancid. Do not use vegetable oil or olive oil.

There are oil blends such as Block Bros. Block Oil and Boos Block Mystery Oil that are made with shelf stable edible oils.

To season, start with a clean, dry cutting board. Coat entire surface with a layer of oil and rub it in. Let set to absorb in warm, dry area for 12 to 24 hours. Buff to remove any oil that may not have been absorbed. Repeat as needed any time your board starts looking dull.

Keep your knives sharp.  Dull knives mean that you have to press harder to cut, which will mark up your board.

Basic Food Safety Applies No Matter Which Type of Cutting Board You Use

  1. Wash hands frequently using a non-toxic soap and hot water. You do not need antibacterial products such as those that contain triclosan, which can break down into a form of dioxin in the environment.
  2. Clean surfaces frequently with hot, soapy water or a combination of a spray of hydrogen peroxide followed by a spray of white vinegar, which is an extremely effective disinfectant. Keep one bottle of each on hand and apply as needed. Make sure to store the hydrogen peroxide in a dark bottle, as light will cause it to break down.
  3. Don't use sponges.  They tend to stay wet and moist – perfect breeding conditions for bacteria. If you still feel compelled to use them, check out Do's and Don'ts of Kitchen Sponge Safety. I prefer the use of dishcloths, washed frequently and spread out to dry between uses. Line drying in the sun will help kill bacteria, as will microwaving a very wet dishcloth for about a minute, or washing in hot water and drying thoroughly.
  4. Don't cross contaminate.  Keep meat away from produce, cooked food away from raw food, etc. Don't grill and put the finished meat on the same plate you used for the raw meat.
  5. Choose the cleanest food possible.  Meat and eggs from healthy animals are less likely to harbor bad bacteria. If it's from your own garden/land or from someone you know, you can more control over what the food may be exposed to. Organic does not necessarily mean pathogen free, but it may help. See E Coli Facts.
  6. Cook to safe temperatures, refrigerate promptly.  Bacteria proliferate faster at room temps. You can read more about food safety at “Protect Yourself from Salmonella and E Coli Naturally“.

Stay safe and enjoy your time in the kitchen, and share this post if you think others would also find it useful.

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P.S. The beautiful cutting boards in this post are from Boos Block (top and bottom photos) and Teakhaus by Proteak.

Boos Block cutting board

Originally posted in 2013, updated in 2017.

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85 Comments

  1. Wow! I never would have thought! I actually use the Natural by Epicurean (it’s made of a wood-fiber laminate) and I LOVE it! It says that it prohibits bacteria…I wonder if it works as well as a regular wooden cutting board?

    -andi

  2. Interesting article. We only use wood here one of which my brother made us. So very cool. I always used wood since they look better and of course aren’t plastic. Though I never gave it too much thought we’re vegetarian so I did wonder if meat needed to be on plastic I’m glad you wrote this article. I’ve shared it on NZ Ecochick’s facebook page. Mx

  3. I get plastics harboring bacteria, but glass? I’m not sure I understand why glass would be inferior to wood, since it is not porous or easily scratched like plastic and wood. Did you find anything to explain this?

    1. I didn’t find anything specifically noting bacterial issues with glass, although it is not naturally antimicrobial like wood and bamboo. I have seen some comments that indicated a concern with minute glass slivers flaking off (some people beat the heck out of their boards). Also, glass is likely to dull your knives more quickly, and would create a more slippery surface when wet so that food could slide around and be a little tougher to cut. If proper kitchen sanitation rules are followed, surfaces are regularly cleaned and you don’t get rough with your glass boards, they should be fine.

    2. I do know that glass boards are awful for your knives. And glass can scratch, or chip — those tiny areas are just as problematic as on plastic.

  4. I have long heard the fact that wood cutting boards are better for you than plastic. I thought though, that I had also heard that it was only true with untreated wood boards. Once you oil the boards the bacteria doesn’t necessarily die off like with an untreated board. I am curious if the research you site tested oiled or untreated boards? I would much rather start treating my boards as it would help them last longer. However, I don’t want a board that is unhealthy and doesn’t kill the germs like the untreated do. Do you have any info to help clear this up?
    Thanks!

    1. Although it’s not clear from the information provided about Dr. Cliver’s research whether the wood tested was treated or untreated, it seems logical that any treatment would only affect the surface of the board, not the subsurface. The surface can still be washed, and the subsurface is where the antibacterial activity is more pronounced. Also, there is evidence that bamboo maintains its antibacterial properties even when processed into fabric, and this is a far more dramatic change of state than creating a cutting board and applying oil. I cannot say with 100% certainty that the antimicrobial activity is unaffected by treating the wood, but it would seem logical to me that it would still exist. I do treat my cutting boards.

      Unfortunately, Dr. Cliver passed away in 2011 and is not available for comment. http://www.secfac.wisc.edu/senate/2011/1003/2284%28mem_res%29.pdf

      1. We all need to read the instruction book. Leviticus 15:12 tells us that we only have to rinse wooden vessels but break earthenware vessels and bury them. God put naturally occurring toxins in the wood that kills bacteria. This info has been around for 4500 years.

  5. Would you reccommend seperate boards for meat and veggies then? Any thougjts on picking iut a good wood board??

    1. As I mention in the post, Don’t cross contaminate. Keep meat away from produce, cooked food away from raw food, etc. Don’t grill and put the finished meat on the same plate you used for the raw meat.

      As for picking out a good board, you can often find ones that are made locally at craft fairs or thrift sales, especially during the holidays. Otherwise, look for a good, sturdy hardwood board. I like the ones with a drop channel around the outside edge to catch any runoff. I’ll be hosting a cutting board giveaway sometime in the upcoming weeks. I was contacted by a company that makes the boards and liked the post.

    2. I use a cutting board with the “juice channel” for meats and the other side which has no channel for fruits and veggies. I do dice hard boiled eggs on the meat side just to be safe.

  6. You can also get your wooden board clean and free from bactaries by scrubbing it with salt, let i set for 20 minutes and then rinse!

      1. No. The combination of Salt and Bleach on wood, placed in the sun(or not) for 30 minutes is also used to” lighten” the wood ever so slightly. After an afternoon of cutting meats for my freezer I use salt and Blue Dawn to clean, then rinse well.

  7. No affiliation, but I use wonderful burled maple cutting boards made from pieces of “imperfect” maple. They are beautiful, and because the grain is random, they are less prone to splitting and cracking. I gave one to my niece as a wedding gift, telling her that marriage is like this cutting board, imperfect but beautiful, and with proper care, will last a lifetime. http://www.maplemagic.com/Gallery/Pictures.htm

  8. I have plastic boards. I don’t cross contaminate. I would like to get board, but the last board I got was indeed a low/poor quality one from walmart and it got marked up pretty quickly and I wondered about splinters getting into the food. Does no soaking, sharp knives, and oiling all reduce a chopped up/sliced up board? What else can be done to reduce the incidence of splinters? And how long do you think a medium/fair quality board should last you? Thanks!

    1. I don’t regularly shop at Walmart, because I ran into quality issue (especially with kitchen items) in the past. (I went to use a potato peeler I bought there, and it stuck in the potato and broke off the first time I tried to use it.) I have one mid-quality board that I bought at Shopko, and I’ve had it at least ten years. I made a pig-shaped cutting board back in junior high shop class, and that’s around 30 years old and still in good condition. The only board I’ve had splintering issues with was one that was made of softwood, not hardwood. Otherwise the pig baord, the mid range board, a second hand board from my MIL (the one with the handle in the photo), the butcher block counter – no splintering issues. A hardwood cutting board treated with modest care should last a lifetime (or longer).

  9. My grandfather was a butcher, way back when… He had a little meat market, in a little town in NH. His butcher block was , of course, wood. The floor was covered in wood shavings. I remember raking the bits of meat and fat that fell to the floor out of the shavings. These were replaced periodically. He scraped the top of the butcher block every night with a metal scraper. His store was inspected by the state yearly. The old ways are best! Now I walk by the door to the meatroom at a supermarket and am assaulted by the smell of bleach…

    1. Gail, my name is also Gail and my grandfather and father had a little meat market. They did the same things that you mentioned. Thank you for the memories.

  10. I’ve known about the antibacterial properties of wood cutting boards for many years. One more advantage that should never be overlooked: your knife will slip on glass and plastic, but not on wood, making wood much safer to cut on. This also results in less stress on your hands and arms because you don’t have to struggle to control the knife. Ask me how I know!!

  11. I have a wooden cutting board, walnut or maple, from 1978 and it still has no splinters knife marks! Always wash with hot soapy water and wipe or drip dry. Am going to be replacing all my plastic cutting boards with wood even though they have the convenience of going into the dishwasher. Tried a glass one once and it was way too slippery! Glad to know my wooden board is indeed the best choice! Thanks for the expertise.

  12. The actual paper is located here: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/1994/00000057/00000001/art00003

    And the abstract states “Recoveries from wooden blocks were generally less than those from plastic blocks, regardless of new or used status; differences increased with holding time.” NOT that there were no bacteria left on the wood. Please be more careful when reporting study results, and provide a link to the actual peer-reviewed article.

    1. Thank you for providing a link to the abstract. I was unable to locate it at the time the post was written, because the study is 10 years old. For those who are interested, the abstract specifically states:

      Abstract:
      The microbiology of plastic and wooden cutting boards was studied, regarding cross-contamination of foods in home kitchens. New and used plastic (four polymers plus hard rubber) and wood(nine hardwoods) cutting boards were cut into 5-cm squares(“blocks”). Escherichia coli (two nonpathogenic strains plus type OI57:H7), Listeria innocua, L. monocytogenes, or Salmonella typhimurium was applied to the 25-cm2 block surface in nutrient broth or chicken juice and recovered by soaking the surface in nutrient broth or pressing the block onto nutrient agar, within 3-10 min or up to ca. 12 h later. Bacteria inoculated onto plastic blocks were readily recovered for minutes to hours and would multiply if held overnight. Recoveries from wooden blocks were generally less than those from plastic blocks, regardless of new or used status; differences increased with holding time. Clean wood blocks usually absorbed the inoculum completely within 3-10 min. If these fluids contained 103-104 CFU of bacteria likely to come from raw meat or poultry, the bacteria generally could not be recovered after entering the wood. If ≥106 CFU were applied, bacteria might be recovered from wood after 12 h at room temperature and high humidity, but numbers were reduced by at least 98%, and often more than 99.9%. Mineral oil treatment of the wood surface had little effect on the microbiological findings. These results do not support the often-heard assertion that plastic cutting boards are more sanitary than wood.” (emphasis mine)

      Never in the article did I state that wood killed all bacteria, only that wood did kill bacteria, while plastic bred more bacteria.

      1. Actually, you did in essence say that wood killed all bacteria. You said:
        “….could not recover ANY bacteria from wooden boards treated the same way.” Doesn’t this indicate that ALL bacteria were killed on the wooden boards?

        1. Jim
          As a former laboratory technician I can tell you that “could not recover any bacteria” does not mean that ALL were killed. Microscopic examination may well have found live bacteria that could not be recovered by a swab test.

  13. Hello!

    I run an Etsy store and we’ve recently started selling wooden cutting boards, would it be alright to reference your article in our listings as a reference for proper care of wooden cutting boards? I just feel like it would be an amazing resource for our customers, I didn’t know if it would be considered improper, or if you would be okay with the idea.

  14. Oiling to board ruins the antimicrobial nature of the wood board. Wood is hygroscopic and pulls the bacteria inside it where it is trapped and dies. If the pores in the wood are filled with oil then the board is basically a plastic board because all the bacteria will sit on the surface.

    1. If you were to wax the board, then yes, that would seal the surface. Oiling does not completely seal all the pores. If you note, the one referenced study looked at people who used cutting boards in their homes, with no specific guidelines as to how those boards were maintained, i.e., the subjects were not using un-oiled boards only.

  15. I would use the cutting board in preparation of breakfast, lunch and dinner as the cook for our guest services small business. I love natural wood and hate plastic. Thanks.

  16. This board looks almost to beautiful to cut on! I however could use a second board for fresh fruit. Currently my wooden board smells of onions, making the fruit taste bad!
    Thank you!

  17. Thanks for the information. This is completely counter intuitive so I never would have guessed wood is better than plastic. But your explanation makes sense.

    I’d use it for my veggies. I use a separate board for meat, but it sounds like I’m going to have to invest in a wood board…

  18. I would use this cutting board for when we have family cookouts–my adult son likes to cook meat on a smoker/grill.

  19. beautiful board – would love to win one. 🙂 it would likely be a daily use board, since we do a lot of cooking at home, and that seems like a lovely, practical size.

  20. I’m a vegetarian so I’m always using a cutting board for cutting up veggies and fruits. It would be nice to have such a nice one to use.

  21. Great info on cutting boards! Thank you.
    I’ve been trying for 2 or 3 years to figure out the best type to use.
    All of ours are so old and used and need to be replaced.
    We use them daily to prepare meals.
    Since my husband often gets the first part of preparing-slicing, dicing or chopping as I get home from work much later in the evening he uses the cutting boards probably even more than I do.
    It was great to read this blog and threads. Thank you.

  22. I would put the John Boos cutting board to good use in preparing my families favorite meals. It will also give me great comfort to know that using their handmade wood cutting board is safe and will not harm my family. I try my best to make what I can homemade and what better way to add to the tradition.

  23. I am learning to use my new dehydrator so I’ve been cutting up lots of fruits and veggies to dry! I need a new cutting board so I entered the contest. : )

  24. These are so beautiful and I’m guessing the give away is over but I’ll just say we only use wood cutting boards in our kitchen. To make some feel better we do have one marked chicken and it is the one that is used when raw meat products must be cut. Just makes less worry for one person in our family who can’t stand the thought of the same board being used for fruit a different time 🙂

  25. I have always used a wood board as has my parents to save the table from damage as well as prolong the life of the knifes edge . .yet winning or purchaseing a new high quality one will be great with the small on i’m using has seen iys better days mostly due to using it on the stove as a trivit for hot pots ,and getting it damaged , of course I can imagine its age being at least 3 generations

  26. Interesting read, although I am kind of concerned about using mineral oil on my boards. I wouldn’t cook with mineral oil (I don’t even buy anything that contains it), so why would I use it on my board? Surely, there is another food-safe oil I can use?

    1. Some people do use coconut oil, which is shelf stable for longer than most other oils, but eventually it, too, will go rancid. The mineral oil, if you’re using it properly, should be absorbed by the wood, not by your food.

  27. I loved this article on the wood cutting boards. You have done a really nice job. I will be replacing my plastic cutting boards now. Thank you for the article.

  28. Wow, I always thought the plastic cutting boards would be less likely to harbor bacteria! I glad to see the studies show otherwise, as I much prefer a wood board. They are much nicer to work with and look much better. Time to replace my plastic ones with wood.

  29. This is a great article. I would love to use one of these quality boards everyday … and they are so beautiful I could leave them on my counter!

  30. Gorgeous wood cutting boards! I love them…have been wishing for a good one like this! Great article, thank you!

  31. I’ve always preferred wooden boards, they look better and have a much nicer feel.

    If I won this it would definitely become my daily use board.

  32. Our small garden is growing in an over-turned dresser filled with dirt on the porch, as we rent and are not allowed to disturb to landscaping. If I won this cutting board, it would be used to prepare the lovely tomatoes, cucumbers and beans that are over-flowing our humble dresser garden!

  33. My dad worked as a butcher during the depression. I grew up with wooden cutting boards. My dad’s knives were always sharp and wooden boards helped keep them that way. I would love to have the beautiful board from John Boos.

  34. I’m in love with wood ANYTHING! My Dad was a carpenter. I love the smell of wood, the look of wood, and the versatility. And it was once a tree…how cool is that!!!!

  35. Love wooden boards. Weight is my only disadvantage. I Have an old butchers block board and it’s so heavy!!!

  36. I use a large plastic cutting board daily & had no idea how bad this is. Will replace to wood ASAP. Thank you for this information!

  37. I’m really glad you shared this post on Facebook again. It was very informative and confirmed my suspicions about the topic. I’ve been working on switching my cutting boards over for some time.

    This might sound dumb, but I’m really glad I read your note about not putting cooked meat on the same plate as the raw meat came off of. When we grill hamburgers, that is exactly what we do, and as I read that, I realized what kind of a dangerous mistake we have been making!

  38. This is so great to know! We are planning to build a house soon, and I love the idea of a wooden counter top, at least on an island. My husband and I have both worked in food service before, so he kept saying how wood isn’t sanitary– now I have something to counter that idea 🙂

  39. Thank you so much for the helpful information in your blog and Facebook posts. I’m going to throw out my used plastic cutting boards and invest in a good hardwood board. I also appreciate the information about board maintenance that you have shared. I would love to win the cutting board, please. Thank you.

  40. Very timely article for those of us grilling out. I do have a butcher block in my kitchen but will rest another board of top of it when it comes to chopping meat or veggies or fruits. Would love one of these excellent quality cutting boards to work with.

  41. I knew wooden boards were superior from a hygiene standpoint, but I didn’t know they should be oiled. Thank you for this knowledge. How would I use a new John Boos cutting board…? Oh my gosh, with gratitude and forever!

  42. Great article! I would definitely put my wooden cutting board to use chopping up fruits and veggies for salads and smoothies. I am moving to a new home near a college I will be attending and I would love to use a quality cutting board like this for my meal preparations!

  43. Awesome article on cutting board care. I’d use a new cutting board to chop up some green chilies, jalapenos, onions & garlic to make some green chili enchilada sauce.

  44. So, I’m a mother of six children and grandmother to 14. My mother and grandmother ( and undoubtedly generations before them, since plastic was only invented in the 1950’s) used a wood cutting surface. I build a 6×4 foot kitchen island with a butcher block top as the area in my kitchen where I have prepared food for 30plus years. Not once has there been any instance of any kind of contamination in this household. I detest sponges and only use the stack of white dishrags I buy at Walmart, 12 for $4. They are laundered daily, along with the antique French dish towels I have collected from France. Sponges just spread bacteria around. Avoid them. I have watched with amusement as sons in laws and daughters in law watch in horror as I chop away on the wood cutting board, no doubt thinking I am incredibly ignorant. Ummm, sorry, but no. Have fun with your plastic and glass. I’ll keep my tried and true butcher block and my sanitary dish rags.

  45. Far more important than washing your hands is cutting your fingernails as short as possible. That is where 98% of the bacterial, viruses and fungus on your hands dwell. There’s no point washing your hands if you have dead nail growth.

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