Behind every great cook is a trusty cutting board―make sure yours lives up to its potential.

By Amanda Armstrong
Updated June 13, 2006
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Reality:Both wood and plastic are safe. "The key is to clean the board properly after each use," says Carl Winter, Ph.D., a food toxicologist and the director of the FoodSafe program at the University of California at Davis. Wash the board thoroughly with soap and running water―the hotter, the better. Then dry it with a paper towel (if you leave it wet, bacteria could grow). As an added precaution, Winter recommends using two cutting boards―one for meat and one for fruits and vegetables―to prevent meat juices from contaminating produce. Bottom line: Feel free to use a wooden board, but keep it clean.
Philippa Brathwaite
  • Plastic vs. wood is a personal choice based on aesthetics and upkeep. You can toss a plastic board in the dishwasher, but you’ll need to take a little extra time with wood, which requires hand washing and an occasional oiling to prevent it from warping or cracking (use mineral, not vegetable, oil). Despite the common belief that plastic is safer than wood, recent studies indicate neither has an edge in keeping bacteria at bay. Just be sure to wash with hot, soapy water after each use.

  • Cutting boards come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Consider how yours will fit into your kitchen, routine, and decor. If you have lots of space, you may want a huge wooden butcher block that can stay on the counter. If you’re short on space, try a bendable plastic sheet that stashes almost anywhere. Or opt for a space-saving over-the-sink model, or an attractive bamboo version that doubles as a cheese board.

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends using one board for vegetables and a separate one for meat and fish, if possible, and always washing the boards between uses. Whether wood or plastic, a board should be replaced when it develops deep, hard- to-clean grooves.