“But is it clean?” Food safety and wood ware

In yesterday’s post, a commenter raised the issue of the safety of wood ware.

“I was told growing up that wood cutting boards, and wooden utensils can get scratches or grooves in them through normal wear and tear. These grooves can trap food particles in them and go bad causing food health issues.”

That’s a great point to bring up. It applies especially when you’re talking about something like a cutting board, which will get a bunch of small cuts criss-crossing the surface as you use it. But when you consider the fact that wood is porous, even without marring the surface with knife cuts, won’t bacteria find lots of places to hide and multiply in wooden bowls, cutting boards, and utensils?

Researchers at the University of California – Davis, led by Dean O. Cliver, PhD, took a look at the safety of wood and plastic cutting boards.

“Our safety concern was that bacteria such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, which might contaminate a work surface when raw meat was being prepared, ought not remain on the surface to contaminate other foods that might be eaten without further cooking. We soon found that disease bacteria such as these were not recoverable from wooden surfaces in a short time after they were applied, unless very large numbers were used.”

There appears to be some anti-bacterial factor in wood that prevents bacteria from living and multiplying. What exactly that mechanism is wasn’t clear from Cliver’s team’s research, but their conclusion is that “wooden cutting boards are not a hazard to human health, but plastic cutting boards may be.”

So you can relax. Use good hygiene on your wooden bowls, cutting boards, and utensils–for example, wash them with warm soapy water, and don’t use the same cutting board for fruits and vegetables right after cutting meat. But the bottom line is that you have more to worry about, in terms of food safety, from the plastics in your kitchen.

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