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Last updated on April 20th, 2017
You 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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