You’re Taking Care of Your Cutting Boards All Wrong

There's a lot you might not know about cutting-board care. Use our best tips to keep your kitchen workspace germ-free.

Woman chopping raw chicken for cooking in kitchenPhoto: Shutterstock / Irina_Gulyaeva
Photo: Shutterstock / Irina_Gulyaeva

If you’re like us, you’re likely pulling out a cutting board at least once or twice a day for slicing bread, chopping veggies or deboning all sorts of proteins. Cutting boards are essential, gotta-have-it foundations upon which culinary masterpieces are staged. (Chopped salad, anyone?) Unfortunately, when not properly cared for, this kitchen necessity can become a breeding ground for mold and mildew, unpleasing odors, salmonella and E. coli bacteria, and other yucky stuff. Happily, you can put a wealth of simple cutting board care strategies into play to keep your surface safe, sanitized and in working order.

Know Your Board

Generally, there are two types of cutting boards: nonporous and wood.

Nonporous: These types are typically made of plastic, resin, marble and glass. They don’t absorb things and are easy to clean, and they’re best for cutting up meat, poultry, and seafood.

Wood: Think of these cutting boards as large sponges. They are likely to absorb juices from raw and cooked proteins. (Yuck!) Wooden cutting boards are best used for table-ready foods, such as herbs, vegetables, fruit, bread and cheese.

No matter which type of cutting boards you opt for, designate one board for dissecting raw proteins (read: Friday night chicken wings) and another for all other chopping tasks.

Test Kitchen tip: To make sure you grab the right board for the right task, look to purchase chopping boards in different colors. This way they’re easy to identify when you’re cooking on the fly. Chop your mango on one and your succulent pork loin on the other in this Mango Chutney Pork Roast recipe.

Clean It Wisely

When cleaning cutting boards, the objective is to remove food residue and disinfect the surfaces. When it comes to nonporous versions, cutting board care can be as simple as throwing the board into a dishwasher set on sanitize.

Test Kitchen tip: Never wash a wood cutting board in the dishwasher, as it will absorb too much water and will be likely to warp and crack.

How to Clean a Wooden Cutting Board

To clean and disinfect at the same time, try one of these methods that employ common household materials.

Bleach solution: Mix 2 teaspoons of bleach with a gallon of water in your sink. Soak nonporous cutting boards in the water for five minutes, rinse, and stand to dry. For wood cutting boards, wipe down all surfaces with the bleach solution (instead of soaking), rinse well, and stand to dry.

Kosher salt and lemon: Scrub the board surface with kosher salt and a half of lemon to deep clean, deodorize, sanitize and remove stains. The salt acts as an abrasive, while the lemon is a natural disinfectant. Learn how to clean more with lemon, here.

Vinegar with (or without) baking soda: Washing your board with vinegar and hot water will remove germs and odors. For a deeper clean, sprinkle baking soda on the surface, spritz with watered-down vinegar and scrub with a brush. Remember to rinse well and stand the boards up to dry. (Psst! Here’s why vinegar is one of our favorite cleaning agents.)

Prime It for Long-term Use

Wood cutting boards are particularly susceptible to drying out. To prevent this, apply specialty food-grade mineral and other oils (not natural cooking oils, which can go rancid) once a month or so to all the board’s surfaces. The oil penetrates to saturate wood fibers, which in turns prevents unwanted liquids from seeping into the board. Another cutting board care treatment for wood boards? Some specialty creams create barriers on board cutting surfaces and seal up cracks and knife scars that would invite in bacteria.

Don’t have oil or specialty cream on hand? Wax paper will save the day.

Accept Saying “Goodbye”

Like most often-used kitchen gear, cutting boards won’t last forever—no matter the care you give them. When cutting boards become splintered, warped, grooved or cracked, it’s time to get rid of them. Flaws in the surface may cause knives to slip during chopping chores, which can cause more harm to you those Hasselback potatoes!

But, when you follow our cutting-board care strategies, you won’t be discarding cutting boards any time soon. These maintenance methods ensure your boards will function fine for years, if not decades, to come.

Curious which kitchen tools are actually worth your money? We’ve traced out the best cooking items that are worth splurging (or saving) your money on. View them all, here.

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