Everything You Need to Know to Find Truly Safe Cutting Boards

posted in: Cutting Boards, Kitchen | 49

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Last updated on April 20th, 2017

Safe Cutting BoardsYou have probably heard about triclosan, a toxic chemical that interferes with our hormone system, pollutes water, and does not easily break down in the environment. You probably know that triclosan is used in soap. But do you know that it may be found in so-called safe cutting boards? Do you want to learn about which boards have triclosan in them and which cutting boards are the best for your health? Read about safe cutting boards for your family in this post.

I was on a webinar with the Green Science Policy Institute and the speaker, Gary Ginsberg, PhD, informed us that triclosan may be present in cutting boards. I realized that I had not given enough thought to cutting boards I use in my kitchen. And now was the time to do it.

 

Plastic versus Wood Debate for Safe Cutting Boards

 

Cutting boards can be made from plastic or wood. As you might guess, I do not recommend using plastic cutting boards. Why? First, they are often treated with triclosan. Have you heard about Microban-coated safe cutting boards? Stay away from them. Triclosan does not make them safe. Read more about that on the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families organization website.

Some plastics are safer than others. Plastics with recycle codes 3 and 7 should be avoided by all means. The bottom line is that we do not fully know what is in the plastics we use every day and even if we knew, most chemicals have not been fully studied yet. According to the Green Science Policy Institute, there are 85% of 20,000 chemicals added onto the US market since 1976 have no health data and 67% of them have no data at all. We know now about BPA and phthalates but what about their substitutes? The Green Science Policy Institute webinar speaker, Carol Kwiatkowski, Ph.D., encouraged us to avoid all types of plastics when it is possible.

You might think that plastic makes cutting boards safe because plastic prevents bacteria growth and subsequent food contamination. Let’s look into this. There seems to be an endless discussion on the Internet whether plastic or wood makes safe cutting boards. I came across this study done by Dr. Cliver, PhD in the UC-Davis Food Safety Laboratory, which concluded that plastic cutting boards are more likely to harbor bacteria and more than twice as likely to contract bacteria such as salmonellosis. Thus, they are not safe cutting boards. According Dr. Cliver’s study, bacteria do not multiply and eventually die in wooden cutting board surfaces, which makes wood a great material for safe cutting boards.

You might say that plastic boards can be easily sanitized in the dishwasher, a convenience wood cutting boards do not have. However, wooden cutting boards can be microwaved. (I microwave my sponges, one minute is enough, but I had no idea that I can do the same with cutting boards). According to research conducted at the University of Florida, microwaving wooden cutting boards at high temperature for 10 minutes will be more effective than applying bleach solution. (Bleach is on my radar of posts. Stay tuned to learn why I am against using bleach in our everyday lives). The University of Florida recommends using vinegar and hydrogen peroxide one after another as an alternative to bleach. This is not the first time I had heard about the effectiveness of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Please see my “My Homemade Cleaning Products” post for more information on bleach alternatives.

And lastly, I agree with cook Chad Ward that it is a great idea to have two separate boards, one for raw meats, fish, and poultry, and the other for anything else. He concludes that wood has natural bacterial resistant properties, and with proper cleaning (and by having a separate wooden cutting board for raw meats) that wood is much preferred to plastic for safe cutting boards.

 

Truly Safe Cutting Boards

 

Now let’s talk about truly safe cutting boards. Bamboo is the least expensive alternative and it is an easily renewable resource because it grows quickly. However, I was unable to find a bamboo cutting board with which I am comfortable. First, it seems like you have to rely on the word of a manufacturer that the bamboo is organically grown (not that I am implying that they would be lying). And second, there were two types of oil finish used on bamboo cutting boards I have seen so far – mineral oil or an undisclosed oil blend.

For example, I pressed one manufacturer to let me know what oil they used to treat their bamboo. They said they did not know, and were unable to get satisfactory answers from their supplier of oil. They offered me commissions if I could talk up their product, but I politely declined, of course, because neither the manufacturer nor I can vouch for the product.

I checked with a number of other manufacturers and it looks like mineral oil is the most popular finish for wooden cutting boards. I am not a big fan of mineral oil because it is made of a non-renewable resource – petroleum – the same petroleum that fuels car engines. The Skin Deep database powered by the Environmental Working Group rates it at a relatively low level of toxicity, 1-3 depending on usage (0 being absolutely non-toxic) though.

I wanted safe cutting boards with three simple characteristics. My criteria were as follows: (1) an absolutely non-toxic finish (i.e. a finish you can eat), (2) FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified solid hardwood, and (3) an affordable price. It did not seem to me that I was asking too much… I will present to you my findings as soon as I can.

 

Update as of 4/10/2014:  I finally found the best cutting board!  See my wood cutting board review here.

 

 

 

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49 Responses

  1. Kira

    If you can find a cutting board or wood that is bare, you could finish it yourself with tung oil, which is food grade and non-toxic. I used this tung oil: http://www.realmilkpaint.com/oil.html on a crib and dresser, but in researching also found it’s great for cutting boards, butcher blocks, etc. If you go this route you can email the company and ask for advice on how to do it or what exactly needs to be done – they also have more information on their website which I found helpful. Basically after sanding what you are doing and wiping it down, you can use an old t-shirt and wipe the tung oil onto it, letting it thoroughly dry inbetween coats.

  2. faith sprangers

    I too think plastic is toxic and messes up your hormones. What was in your next post to the answer of what cutting boards are safe?

    I do not buy milk in plastic, but a paper container. I use glass for my containers and not plastic.

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Julie,

      I know it’s been awhile. I’ve been waiting for a few things to clear and I hope to write the second part of this post soon. Please subscribe to my blog, if you have not yet, to receive my posts by email so you do not miss this post.

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Jim,
      thank you for asking the question and reminding me to change the way I end the post. At that time I was writing the post I thought I had found cutting boards that adhered to my requirements. However, when I dug deeper it was not so simple. I want to assure you that I work really hard to bring you non-toxic but also of good quality products. Thank you for your patience!

  3. Mike

    I too became concerned about chemicals when I had my kids. I started with the things people normally start with when they “detoxify” their homes (organic food, safer soaps, etc) and that progressed into me looking deeper into other things in my home, namely things in my kitchen. I disposed of all my nonstick, and plastic cookware, replaced utensils with Canadian or USA made wooden ones. I replaced cookware with glass, and USA or European manufactured cast iron or carbon steel pots and pans. Then I got rid of my plastic cutting boards. As I looked deeper into cutting boards I found the same as you did, that manufacturers do not disclose the materials used in making their products. I found that I could only find wooden cutting boards using either formaldehyde leaching glues (they are cheap and tough) or coating their cutting boards in “mystery coatings” mainly mineral oil. I found bamboo to be the worst for using a high amount of toxic glues as bamboo is basically made into laminate to make the cutting boards, this is because bamboo is obviously only made of thin strips (so they make “bamboo plywood” basically.) I couldn’t actually find any companies that disclosed (or knew) what glues and coatings their far eastern manufacturing facilities were using.

    This is going to sound like an advertisement now but I might as well tell you that I started make cutting boards from my home shop for myself and family and they told me to start selling them. Many of my one piece face grain cutting boards use no glue, they use natural and /or organic materials, and I use FDA approved for indirect food contact glues for my larger thicker edge grain boards.

    I use non-toxic milk paint on non-food contact areas (actually the paint I use is the first paint to receive the USDA approved bio based paint seal of approval).

    I even use natural gum tree rubber feet which I hand cut from sheets of natural rubber (vs PVC or plastic), and use high grade stainless steel screws to affix them the my cutting boards (no rusting).

    Here is the question of the day. What do I finish coat them with? I make my own Canadian Organic Walnut Oil & Canadian Beeswax blend or alternatively (for those who have an allergy to Walnuts, I make an Organic Fair Trade Coconut Oil & Canadian Beeswax finish. Walnut oil is a “drying oil”, and coconut oil which is not a drying oil but as most health conscious people know has anti fungal and antibacterial properties. Both resist rancidity unlike olive oil, vegetable oil, etc.

    My cutting boards are 100% made in Canada and they are of as high a quality as you will find anywhere from anyone.

    To top it offf, a tree is planted in Canada for every product sold to offset my footprint

    So, there are alternatives out there, and many people just like you who want non-toxic things for their family. I fully disclose every material I use in my cutting boards. I’m currently only on etsy and my shop name is Urthware. I will eventually (hopefully) have a website soon too urthware.com

    Not trying just to hijack your blog for advertising. 🙂

    And by the way, just a side note, cast iron pans by Lodge are manufactured in the USA unlike all the others (with exception of their enamelled line which is sadly not made in the USA) and I love mine.

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Mike, thank you for such a great information! I use iron cast pans by Lodge
      and love them! It is funny but before you emailed, I started thinking that the Internet might not be the best place to get a good wooden board but from a local person who makes them in his home shop. Could you tell us more about the glue you use: the brand, ingredients? I am learning that it is the best not to use any glue and strive to make boards out of one piece. How big are your one-piece boards? What is the name of the paint do you use? Thank you!

      • Mike

        Lol love lodge stuff. I use paint from The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co. http://www.milkpaint.com (MSDS readily available on their website). The brand of glue I use (glue is used only on my edge grain boards) is Titebond 3 (The MSDS is freely available on their website also). I do make cutting boards that are GLUE FREE in my Organic line. That being said, there are limits to size with a one piece cutting board. Also, Edge grain boards (my professional series that does use glued strips) are tougher, thicker, and don’t soak up liquids as readily, also I use wide strips of Maple so there are not very many glue lines.

        Ironically even though I have TONS of cutting boards the cutting board sitting on my counter is the smallest one I make lol, I can cut an apple, orange, onion, pepper etc. on it quick and I can carry it one handed to the pot and just dump the onion in.

        • Mike

          Sorry missed one answer. My one piece cutting boards range between approx. 6″-9″ deep x 13″-18″ wide x about 1″ thick.

          • Irina Webb

            That’s a good size for a one-piece board. What do you have in your oil & beeswax finish? Just those two? Is the beeswax natural? I am learning that there is a lot of petroleum beeswax on the market nowadays and you have to read labels carefully. Thanks!

        • Irina Webb

          I had researched Titebond 3 before but just sent them an email to make sure that the glue is formaldehyde- and phthalate-free.

      • Irina Webb

        Hi Emily!I will be making an announcement soon in my newsletter. Please subscribe to my newsletter not to miss the announcement. Thank you for asking. His boards are truly the best!

  4. Mike

    I have to choose just the right lumber to make the wider cutting boards (not just wide boards), and I have to mill them a certain way. As for the finishing oil, absolutely, I only use just those pure ingredients. And yes, absolutely, the beeswax I use is 100% pure Beeswax, made by bees. Absolutely NO paraffin wax (which is the petroleum based wax you are referring to), or other soy, or vegetable waxes. I have done everything (to the best of my current knowledge and ability) to make the the safest, most non-toxic cutting boards on the market today. Thank you for the questions 🙂 If you have any more don’t ever hesitate to ask.

    • Irina Webb

      That sounds wonderful! Thank you for making non-toxic products. I am curious to see/try your cutting board. Would you like to send me one for my review?

      • Mike

        I can totally do that. I will send you one from my organic line. Email me and we can figure out what colour and finish you want.

      • Mike

        I do sell online, currently it’s on my Etsy shop called Urthware. I just opened it
        I will have to sell some more cutting boards before I open my own ecommerce website (they are a bit expensive to run and maintain).

  5. josh

    i cant get the link that shows your findings on the cutting boards you found

    • Irina Webb

      Hmm… It works for me. Click on the word “here” in the very last sentence of the post, after the subscription form.

  6. Peter

    Hi You Guys:

    Last year I bought pieces of a kitchen set composed of cutting board, dish drying rack and utensils from eco Bamboo thinking it was sustainable though unaware of the health concerns of the glues. And they recommended mineral oil which tells me they are not holistic and most importantly, healthy. Is there an oil I can use on them to seal any toxic possibilities. I am a vegan and do everything possible to eliminate all toxicities from my life in every area yet didn’t know about the glues in the bamboo construction so this may have been money I used for the lessons learned. Kindly address my points on saving what I have and I will look up your oil mixture if I am able to seal out any toxic leaching. Thank you, Peter

  7. Mike

    Hello Peter,

    Let me attempt to answer some of your concerns.

    Bamboo cutting boards contain a significant amount of glue because they are made up of small pieces of grass (bamboo) that need to be affixed together somehow, and being small pieces there are a lot of seams. (Don’t get me started on “natural” Epicurean boards that are basically made of glue) Some manufacturers of hard wood cutting boards (maple, walnut, etc.) use wide pieces of wood reducing glue seams and some use glues that are FDA approved for this use and are not formaldehyde based glues.

    The first thing you need to do is contact the manufacturer and find out what type of glue they use. Most bamboo boards are made in Asia so it is doubtful that they will even know what type of glue was used and most likely it will be a cheap formaldehyde based glue (never mind it being FDA approved), but there is always the possibility it could be approved glue so check it out with the manufacturer. If it is not FDA (or other reputable certification) approved glue you’ll have to make an educated decision on whether or not this bothers you enough to chuck your cutting boards. Personal decision.

    Second. Almost all cutting boards are finished in mineral oil (which is a petroleum product) this is because it is hypoallergenic and fairly low on the toxicity scale, does not go rancid and stays a liquid so it fills in cut marks. I fully understand your concern with this. You pay a premium to buy organic food so that it doesn’t come into contact with pesticides, herbicides or other toxic substances then you have to cut your food on a chemical laden cutting board every day long term.

    I can try and give you some solutions that may work to a certain extent but I am not absolutely sure they will block mineral oil completely so please take that into consideration.

    There are a few different types of finishes but the type we are going to look at here are coatings that polymerize (drying oils). There are a few options for you in this category that you could try. Natural drying oils penetrate the wood then polymerize to produce a semi-hard coating that protects the wood from moisture.
    They are not as hard or durable as a synthetic coatings such as the polyurethane on a kitchen table or chairs, but do create a barrier especially when applied often so they may block some of the mineral oil however, again, I am unsure how permeable they are in regards to mineral oil.

    Here are some “drying” oils:

    Walnut oil: you can buy this as an organic food grade edible product and it absorbs well into a cutting board then polymerizes, but it is not such a hard coating (unlike polyurethane or others) that it chips off into your food when cutting on it (though it wouldn’t matter if it did as it’s edible ).
    It can be cut on even wet as it I an edible oil (used in salads, etc.) so there is no need to wait until it totally cures. This is my suggestion if you and your family do not have a tree nut allergy. Though anything could be an allergen or irritant to certain people. Only you know you.

    Linseed oil: linseed oil (aka flax seed oil) can be used and has many of the properties of walnut oil though make sure you don’t mind the taste or smell of it. It also takes quite a while to fully polymerize and has a short shelf life (the liquid must be refrigerated). DO NOT buy linseed oil at the hardware store it is full of heavy metal dryers to speed curing and is toxic! Which is fine for a chair but not at all for a cutting surface for food in my opinion (and I’m assuming yours).

    There are other natural oils that you know your family is not allergic to any of the natural drying oils you choose.

    If you have any questions you can obviously post them here or get ahold of me directly if you want at urthware.com. And if you do want a cutting board with no glues or FDA approved glues, that are made in Canada, and that use all natural & organic finishes we do manufacture these, they do exist at urthware.com

  8. Matilde

    Hi,
    Just wondering what your final findings are in case of cutting boards. Also, what are your objections to simple wooden cutting boards you buy in the shop? And why not bamboo? It is not entirely clear to me.
    I am currently writing an article for a Dutch magazine about this topic but I cannot seem to find many evidence-based objections to either wooden cutting boards or bamboo chopping boards.
    Thanks heaps!
    Matilde

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Matilde,
      Any wooden board is much better than plastic, especially if that plastic treated with triclosan. However, if you want to be picky like me, you might want to stay away from wooden boards treated with mineral oil as it is a petroleum product. Also, most wooden boards are made with strips of wood glued together with questionable glue. Especially bamboo boards are made with a lot of glue involved. And most bamboo comes from China. We do not have sufficient information about whether any chemicals involved in growing and processing that bamboo. But again, there is an upside to bamboo as it is an easily renewable resource.

  9. Alison

    Did you try Mike’s cutting boards? Have you found any other etsy shops that make a board you are comfortable with?
    Anyone find an option on amazon that they will share?

    Thanks!

    • Irina Webb

      I have not heard from them yet. I hope they will respond at some point. Can you email them, too? Ideally, I would like to find US cutting board company. Not sure if we have to ship cutting boards all the way from Italy. ~Irina

  10. Elena

    I would be happy to e-mail them. What information would like to find out other than what they use to finish their boards with?

    • Irina Webb

      They have not replied to me yet. If you email them, ask what the finish is made of, if they use any. And if the board is made of one piece wood or there are multiple pieces glued together. Thanks.

  11. Elena

    Hi Irina,

    I e-mailed them and inquired about the finish. The board is made out of one piece. I picked one up at Marshall’s 🙂

  12. Lucky

    Hi. I tried the link supplied by Elena but unfortunately a message “this page could not be found” appeared. (I tried a few different times) Amazon.com seems to sell Arte Legno cutting boards made of beechwood. Is that non toxic? Do they use olive oil on these boards for their finish? thank you

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Lucky: They replied that almost all Arte Legno cutting boards are formed from one piece of olive wood, without use of glue or paints. And they finish them with sunflower oil. However, just now I know noticed that the product description on Amazon states, “Certified food-safe oil finish with a stain resistant treatment.” That doesn’t seem be consistent with sunflower oil… So not sure. Why do not you try to email them and ask what those finish oil and treatment are? ~Irina

  13. Lucky

    I just located this “Oil finished with plant and wax based certified food safe oil in order to achieve the highest safety and best performances.” Any comments? thank you

    • Irina Webb

      We need to know what that oil is. Don’t we? I do not like when they tell that it is safe without telling what it is. Not a good sign. I suspect that it is a mineral oil, which is not deadly but not ideal. ~Irina

  14. Lucky

    It seems to be so hard to get a true picture of most products which is sad and very disappointing. Is it really that much more expensive to produce safe non toxic products?

  15. Tatiana

    Hi Irina,

    Did you ever looked into bamboo boards and other stuff from Bambu? (www.bambuhome.com) What do you think about those?
    They are saying somewhere that they use glue from Finland, but I didn’t find much details.

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Tatiana: Generally, I am not a big fan of bamboo. It is better than plastic of course but there are too many unanswered questions about bamboo. I would love to sit down with a bamboo maker one day and ask all my questions. ~Irina

  16. Tatiana

    Thanks Irina! In the meantime I’ve got the following respond from Bambu: “Our Cutting & Serving products are made from laminates that use a water-based glue imported from Finland, free of formaldehyde and heavy metal. These products are also finished with a food safe wood oil. Oil ingredients are based on naturally produced vegetable oils and waxes (e.g. sunflower oil, soybean oil, thistle oil, carnauba wax, candelilla wax). No animal products are used as ingredients or in the manufacturing process. bambu products are tested by international 3rd party laboratories as food safe or food appropriate. We hope that answers your questions. If you have questions we can help answer, please feel free to email us at customercare@bambuhome.com, or call us toll-free at 855.630.3149″
    So indeed not all questions answered but as you’ve mentioned definitely better than plastic.

  17. Sonya

    Hi Irina,

    What’s your take on glass cutting boards? Seems like a good option to me, but I might not be aware of something. Would love to know your opinion. Also, stone cutting boards?

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