Cutting Board Safety: A Beginner’s Guide
Cutting boards are a kitchen staple.
They are a sturdy, reliable surface for cutting meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and fruits.
But if you’re not careful, they can spread bacteria and other contaminants to food and make people sick.
This article explains the basics of cutting board safety so you can keep those you serve safe.
The dangers of unsafe cutting board use
Unsafe use of a cutting board is one of the easiest ways to transfer disease-causing organisms — known as pathogens — like bacteria from one food to another.
When this happens, it’s known as cross-contamination.
For example, if you chop raw chicken on a cutting board and then switch to cutting a ready-to eat food like tomatoes without first cleaning and sanitizing the cutting board, bacteria like Salmonella from the raw chicken can contaminate the tomatoes and make someone extremely ill.
Unsafe use of a cutting board can also lead to cross-contact when preparing special orders.
Cross-contact is similar to cross-contamination but occurs when a food allergen rather than a pathogen is transferred from one food to another.
A food allergen is a normally harmless protein or additive in food that causes an abnormal immune reaction in a person with an allergy to that food or additive.
If you chop hard-boiled eggs on a cutting board and then switch to chopping lettuce for a sandwich, the lettuce — which would normally be allergen-free — is no longer allergen-free since it came in contact with the eggs.
Serving this sandwich a person with an egg allergy could trigger a severe allergic reaction.
And once cross-contact has occurred, it cannot be undone by cooking or other means.
There are nine major food allergens that you must know:
- fish, such as cod, bass, or salmon
- shellfish, such as crab, lobster, or shrimp
- tree nuts, such as almonds, pecans, or walnuts
Unsafe use of a cutting board leads to the transfer of pathogens (cross-contamination) or food allergens (cross-contamination) from one food to another.
How to clean and sanitize a cutting board
Cleaning and sanitizing your cutting board at the appropriate times is the only way to prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact.
Cleaning removes visible food particles while sanitizing reduces pathogens to safe numbers.
You should clean and sanitize your cutting board and cutting utensils like knives:
- after each use
- when changing tasks, such as switching from raw animal products to ready-to-eat foods like washed vegetables
- before preparing an allergen-free order
- after four hours of continuous use, since this is enough time for bacteria to multiply to harmful levels
You can wash and sanitize cutting boards using a dishwasher or a three-compartment sink.
Depending on your dishwasher size, you may need to use a three-compartment sink.
Here are the steps to clean and sanitize a cutting board using a three-compartment sink:
- Scrape off or rinse away any leftover food on the cutting board.
- In the first sink, use warm (110ºF / 43ºC), soapy water and a brush to remove oil and other food particles from the cutting board.
- Move the cutting board to the second sink and rinse it with clean, warm water to remove leftover soap or detergent.
- Move the cutting board to the third sink and soak it in your chosen chemical sanitizer according the manufacturer’s direction. Alternatively, immerse the cutting board in very hot water (171ºF / 77ºC) for 30 seconds.
- Move the cutting board to the drainboard or a nearby drying rack and allow it to air-dry completely (never towel dry) before using or putting it away.
You must follow these steps in order to properly clean and sanitize.
To prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact, clean and sanitize your cutting board after each use, when switching tasks, before preparing an allergen-free order, and after fours hours of continuous use.
Safest type of cutting board
Cutting boards are made from various materials.
The most common materials are wood and plastic.
Plastic cutting boards tend to be preferred for foodservice since they are more durable and resilient than their wood and bamboo counterparts.
Wood cutting boards can develop deep cuts and groves over time and are more porous than plastic.
These qualities of wood make it easier for bacteria to become trapped and more difficult to clean.
Still, plastic cutting boards can be scratched and scored over time and must be replaced often to allow proper cleaning and sanitization.
If a cutting board is scratched and chipped, you should always replace it.
Plastic cutting boards are also preferred since you can purchase them in a variety of colors and designate a color to a specific food group to reduce the risk of cross-contamination and cross-contact.
Many foodservice operations follow this standard color-coding system:
- Blue: raw seafood
- Red: raw red meat
- Green: fruits and vegetables
- Yellow: poultry
- Brown: cooked meats
- White: dairy and breads
In either case, wood cutting boards are still safe for use in foodservice as long as they are made from maple (1).
Plastic cutting boards tends to be preferred over wood for foodservice since they are less prone to developing cuts and grooves in which bacteria can hide. Using a color-coding system, plastic cutting boards can also reduce the risk of cross-contamination or cross-contact.
The bottom line
Cutting boards are a kitchen staple but you must use them safely to prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact.
You should clean and sanitize them after each use, when switching tasks, before preparing an allergen-free order, and after fours hours of continuous use.
Plastic cutting boards are less prone to developing cuts and groves and you can follow a color-coding system to reduce the risk of cross-contamination and cross-contact.
For these reasons, plastic cutting boards tend to be preferred over wood.
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